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U.S. billionaire Chris Cline among 7 killed in helicopter crash, spokesperson confirms

Billionaire coal tycoon and Republican donor Chris Cline, as well as his daughter, were among seven Americans killed in a helicopter crash in the Bahamas, a spokesperson for the entrepreneur's lawyer confirmed Friday.

Coal tycoon, Republican donor owned company behind Nova Scotia mine

Police in the Bahamas were told that American billionaire and coal tycoon Chris Cline, pictured here in 2014, was among those aboard a helicopter that crashed and killed seven people. (Sholten Singer/The Herald-Dispatch via Associated Press)

Billionaire coal tycoon and Republican donor Chris Cline, and his daughter, were among seven Americans killed in a helicopter crash in the Bahamas, a spokesperson for the entrepreneur's lawyer confirmed Friday.

Cline, 60, and his 22-year-old daughter Kameron were on board the aircraft when it went down, said Joe Carey, speaking for Cline's lawyer in West Virginia, Brian Glasser.

Bahamas police Supt. Shanta Knowles told The Associated Press the search began off the islands of Big Grand Cay when police received a report from Florida that a group including Cline had failed to arrive as expected Thursday in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

The bodies of the four women and three men have been taken to the capital in Nassau to be officially identified, Knowles said. The helicopter was still in the water, and based on preliminary information, she did not believe there had been a distress call before it went down.

Knowles said a specialized ship was coming from Florida with equipment to pull the helicopter from the water.

A statement from the Royal Bahamas Police Force said authorities and local residents found the crash site about three kilometres off Big Grand Cay, a group of private islands Cline owned.

Aviation safety investigators in the Bahamas are working to determine the cause, said Jaime Nixon, an aviation safety analyst for the Air Accident Investigation Department of the Bahamas. The Bahamas Civil Aviation Authority told the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration that the AgustaWestland AW139 helicopter was located in the water at about 7 p.m. local time on Thursday.

Bahamian authorities and local residents found the helicopter crash site that killed seven Americans about three kilometres off Grand Cay. (Google Maps)

'A giving, good man'

Cline worked his way up from West Virginia's underground mines to become one of the country's top coal producers and amass a $1.8-billion US fortune.

He donated extensively to U.S. President Donald Trump and other Republican politicians. Federal records show he gave the president's inaugural committee $1 million US in 2017 and spread thousands more to conservative groups as well as committees representing prominent Republicans, such as Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

Cline's company also owns Kameron Collieries, the company behind a coal mine in Donkin, N.S.

Leaders of industry, government and academics in West Virginia eulogized Cline as a coal industry visionary and a generous giver.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice on Friday tweeted that he "lost a very close friend" in Cline, who he described as a West Virginia "superstar."

Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, described Cline as "a very farsighted entrepreneur" with a "Midas touch."

"Our hearts are heavy," said Jerome A. Gilbert, president of Marshall University, where Cline donated millions of dollars to support the university's Sports Medicine Institute and athletics foundation.

"Chris's generosity to our research and athletics programs has made a mark on Marshall University and our students for many years to come."