Chris Cline a coal industry billionaire, Republican donor and philanthropist was among seven people killed Thursday in a helicopter crash while en route to Florida, PEOPLE confirms.
The helicopter carrying 60-year-old Cline and the others smashed into the water shortly after leaving Grand Cay, an island in the Bahamas,The New York Timesreported. The group was headed for Fort Lauderdale.
All aboard died,according to CBS News. The other victims identities had not yet been formally confirmed by authorities, but a statement shared with PEOPLE from the Cline family said that another victim of the crash was Clines daughter Kameron Cline.
We are all so deeply saddened This loss will be felt by all those who had the privilege of having known them, the family said.
Chris, his family said, was one of West Virginias strongest sons, an American original, full of grit, integrity, intelligence and humor, a testament that our hopes and dreams are achievable when we believe and commit ourselves to action.
A spokesman for the family of 21-year-old Brittney Searson, a friend of Kamerons, confirmed to PEOPLE that Searson was also among the victims.
The group had set out for Florida because of a possible illness,according to theBeckley Register-Herald, citing friends accounts.
The cause of the crash was unclear but an investigation was underway, according to theAssociated Press. However, police told the outlet that it appeared there was no distress call before the helicopter went down.
The crash was first reported to authorities about 5 p.m. Thursday, according to theTimes. (A spokeswoman for the Royal Bahamas Police Force did not immediately respond to questions from PEOPLE.)
Chris, whose net worth was $1.8 billion,according toForbes, was remembered as a generous and enterprising spirit.
His 61st birthday would have been on Friday, according to theTimes.
Today we lost a WV superstar and I lost a very close friend, West Virginias governor, Jim Justice,wrote on Twitter Thursday. Our families go back to the beginning of the Cline empire Pioneer Fuel. Chris Cline built an empire and on every occasion was always there to give. What a wonderful, loving, and giving man.
I just love him with all my soul, Justice told theRegister-Herald. People couldnt even imagine this.
Chris, a native of Beckley, West Virginia, began working in the states coal mines at age 22,according to CNN. He later founded the Cline Group and Foresight Energy, both in the mining and energy industries. In 2015, he sold a stake in the latter for $1.4 billion, according toForbes.
He was a major donor to leading Republican politicians, including former Florida Gov.Jeb Bush, Florida Sen.Marco Rubioand PresidentDonald Trump, theTimesreported.
Chris also donated extensively to his alma mater Marshall University.
The entire Marshall community is in disbelief and shock over the sad news of this tragic accident that took the life of a prominent Son of Marshall and so many others, University President Jerome A. Gilbert said in a statement, according to CBS. Our hearts are heavy. Chriss generosity to our research and athletics programs has made a mark on Marshall University and our students for many years to come. I am praying for his family.
Chris is a father and very low-key, a source close to him previously told PEOPLE. He travels for business and has a home in West Virginia. He has a very diversified life and is always busy with something.
Chris previously datedElin Nordegren, ex-wife ofTiger Woods, with whom she shares two children.
She and Chris first met in 2011 when she bought a property next to his in Florida,PEOPLE reported in 2014. They traveled together to Haiti on a church mission in 2012 and she did work with the child-welfare organization Place of Hope after he introduced her to it.
In an interview with PEOPLE in 2014, Nordegren, 39, demurred on her relationship with Chris saying only, Chris and I, since weve been close, have decided not to talk about [it].
Bartow Jones was a business partner of Chris, and says Chris was a fierce competitor both in business and in fun and games who intentionally blurred the professional and personal in his many friendships.
He balanced it in a way by co-mingling them, says Jones, who with his wife and three kids had visited Chris West Virginia home, on which he had a large lake on which to water ski and ride Wave Runners, a half-mile go-kart track with more than a half-dozen gas-fueled racers, and an air-conditioned stable as a base for horseback riding.
In addition, he had a great paintball course, and he would teach the kids to play paintball, says Jones. He would challenge the kids, but he didnt have a gun it was more hunt than anything else, but the kids loved it.
Chris had a lot of success and had been to a lot of places, says Jones, but what he liked to do for fun never changed.
Hes a remarkable man who took what he learned growing up and took on the world and did it with confidence, says Jones. Upon learning of Chris financial gifts over the years to West Virginia University and Marshall University, It didnt surprise me that his philanthropy was focused on West Virginia, he says. He was very proud of where he came from.
His success should be inspirational, says Jones. One level of success made him believe in the next level, and anybody from West Virginia, or anybody from any small town, should find that inspiring.
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