US billionaire Chris Cline killed in helicopter crash

Foresight Energy chairman Chris Cline (right) ringing the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange in 2014.
Foresight Energy chairman Chris Cline (right) ringing the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange in 2014.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - Chris Cline, a billionaire entrepreneur, philanthropist and political donor once called the "King of Coal", died in a helicopter crash in the Bahamas that officials said killed seven people.

Local authorities did not immediately identify the victims of Thursday's accident.

But Brian Glasser, a lawyer for Cline, confirmed that Cline, who would have turned 61 on Friday (July 5), was among the dead.

A representative for Glasser's firm said Cline's daughter Kameron Cline, 22, had also died.

Jillian Clark, a recent Louisiana State University graduate, was killed as well, according to NOLA.com.

Clark and Cline were both members of the university's Phi Mu sorority.

Brittney Searson, 21, another friend from Louisiana State, was also among the victims, The Palm Beach Post reported.

The helicopter had taken off from Big Grand Cay around 2am on Thursday on its way to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the Royal Bahamas Police Force said in a statement.

It was not reported missing to police until just before 3pm, after it did not arrive in Florida.

Investigators from the Bahamian Air Accident Investigation Department were alerted around 5pm, said Delvin Major, chief investigator of air accidents at the Bahamian Air Accident Investigation Department.

Police officers and residents later discovered the aircraft overturned in 5m of water off Grand Cay and found seven bodies - four female and three male, the police statement said.

The helicopter most likely crashed shortly after take-off, Major said.

In a statement on Friday, Cline's family said he was "an American original, full of grit, integrity, intelligence and humour" and that Kameron Cline was "a bright light to all who knew her."

Cline began working in the coal industry in West Virginia in 1980 at age 22, according to a biography on his firm's website. He rapidly rose through the industry ranks, founding an energy development group, the Cline Group, in 1990.

In 2006, he founded Foresight Energy to develop and operate mines in Illinois, according to the firm, though he later sold his controlling interest to another coal company.

Cline's personal wealth was valued at US$1.8 billion (S$2.4 billion), according to Forbes.

Cline was a major supporter of President Donald Trump and many other Republicans. He donated US$1 million to the president's 2017 inauguration celebration, according to the Open Secrets site run by the Centre for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan group that tracks campaign donations.