Billionaire West Virginia coal operator and philanthropist Chris Cline dies in helicopter crash

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Chris Cline, a West Virginia native who built a coal empire and a reputation for charitable giving, has died along with one of his children and five other people in a helicopter crash.

“What he accomplished in the coal mining industry was nothing short of amazing,” said Gary White, a former coal company president.

“He started working for his father (a small-contract miner) and rose to be one of the titans in the industry. Notwithstanding his success, he never forgot his humble beginnings.”

Brian Glasser, Cline’s attorney and long-time friend, said also killed in the crash was Cameron Cline, one of Cline’s daughters, who recently graduated from LSU.  Glasser said the other victims include the helicopter pilot, David Jude, who was from Kermit, West Virginia and a friend of Cline’s. The other victims are believed to be family friends.

Cline, who grew up in Brenton, Wyoming County, was 60. He would have had his 61st birthday on Friday.

Multiple sources reported his death. The Register-Herald newspaper in Beckley was among the first.

ABC News reported the helicopter, which was owned by Cline’s Challenger Management company, took off from Big Grand Cay for Fort Lauderdale, Florida, at about 2 a.m. Thursday.  The helicopter was reported missing about 13 hours later. The craft was found in about 16 feet of water off Grand Cay and all seven bodies were recovered.

Gov. Jim Justice, whose family has its own coal mining businesses, paid tribute. “Chris built an empire and on every occasion was always there to give,” the governor stated. “What a wonderful, loving and giving man.”

Cline, who grew up in a West Virginia coal mining family, dropped out of Marshall University at 22 to enter the coal industry.

“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,” stated Marshall University President Jerome Gilbert. “Our hearts are heavy.”

Cline formed his energy development group, the Cline Group, in 1990. It developed and operated some of the most productive underground coal mines in the country.

In 2003, the Cline Group sold its mature mining and processing concerns in Appalachia to focus on new opportunities in the Illinois Basin.

Cline anticipated renewed interest in high sulfur, high Btu coal and formed Foresight Energy LLC in 2006.

By 2010, an article in Bloomberg called him the “New King Coal.”

“As far as the social acceptability of coal, I like to think I’m part of supplying the cheapest energy in America,” he said in the article.

Cline’s company had more than three billion tons of coal reserves across Illinois and the Northern Appalachians.

In 2011, he donated $5 million from his Cline Family Foundation to the School of Medicine and the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics of the West Virginia University.

Later that year, he also donated $5 million to Marshall University for research on sports medicine.

Cline later contributed another $3.5 million to the Vision Campaign — the first major fundraising effort undertaken by Marshall Athletics and the Big Green Scholarship Foundation.

“I’m devastated,” Marshall’s athletic director, Mike Hamrick, said Thursday evening.

In recognition of his generosity, Marshall dedicated the Chris Cline Athletic Complex in 2014.

Cline commented at the dedication, “everybody in this state contributed to me getting started and making it in life and I’ll probably never be able to pay them back.”

On June 23, 2014, Foresight Energy LP completed an initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange.

Starting in April, 2015, Murray Energy acquired a economic interest in Foresight. After that, Cline was focusing on coal opportunities in Canada.

Cline’s wealth also led to a celebrity lifestyle.

For a time, Cline dated model Elin Nordegren, the ex-wife of Tiger Woods.

He owned the 205-foot luxury yacht Mine Games, with five staterooms and ts own submarine. He also had a 33,413-square-foot mansion in North Palm Beach, Florida.

His 150-acre property in Beckley featured a lake, a go-kart track and pastures for his horses, goats and llamas.

On August 20, 2012, aspiring actor Vivek Shah was arrested for the attempted extortion of Cline, Harvey Weinstein, and three others.

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