Cline helicopter crash investigation moves into next phase

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The tailboom of the helicopter that crashed on July 4th in the Bahamas, killing seven people including Chris Cline, a coal entrepreneur and West Virginia native, separated from the helicopter, according to a preliminary investigative report.

Eric Weiss, spokesperson for the National Transportation Safety Board, said the tailboom was found about 1.6 miles southwest of the accident site and was recovered in pieces except for one tail rotor blade which was not located.

As for the main body of the Agusta AW139 helicopter, “The helicopter was found inverted,” Weiss said. “All five main rotor blades were separated, but recovered.”

Weiss talked with MetroNews a day after the release of the NTSB’s preliminary report on the crash that happened off Big Grand Cay Island, Cline’s private property, one minute after takeoff.

At the time, it was en route to Fort Lauderdale, Florida for medical treatment for two people.

“It was just in the air a very, very short period of time before crashing,” Weiss said.

Along with Cline, 60, the other crash victims were his daughter, Kameron Cline, 22, two of Kameron’s recent fellow graduates and sorority sisters from Louisiana State University — Brittney Searson, 22, of Florida and Jillian Clark, 22, from Louisiana — and Kameron’s childhood friend, Delaney Wykle, 22, of Beckley, a graduate of West Virginia University.

David Jude, 57, a friend to Chris Cline and Kermit, W.Va. native, was also killed along with Geoffrey Painter, 52, of Barnstaple in the United Kingdom, authorities previously said.

The helicopter arrived on Big Grand Cay between 1:30 a.m. and 1:45 a.m. of July 4, 2019, the NTSB reported, with two crew members, believed to be Jude and Painter. The others boarded there.

One witness reported no visible problems with the helicopter at the time of takeoff.

A second witness at a different location said the helicopter climbed to 40 to 50 feet above ground level before he saw “blue and white lights spinning to the left at a rate of about one to two seconds between rotations while descending.”

In all, the witness estimated there were three to four rotations before what was described as a “whoosh, whoosh, whoosh” sound followed by the sound of impact.

The witness said he reported what happened to the “caregiver” at Big Grand Cay and went out on his boat after 2 a.m. to search the area but was unable to locate the helicopter.

After 3 p.m., the Federal Aviation Administration issued an alert notice for an overdue flight.

Just more than an hour later, local residents found the helicopter in about 16 feet of water.

Earlier this month, Brian Glasser, a Cline attorney, said of a possible crash cause: “The evidence points to catastrophic mechanical failure, probably having to do with the tail.”

In recent weeks, the aircraft has been kept at a secure facility in Florida.

Going forward, the official NTSB investigation will assess three factors: the human, the machine and operating conditions.

“This is still the beginning of the investigation. We’re still in the fact-gathering phase and that will continue until we come up with a probable cause which could take up to two years,” Weiss said.

“This will be a pretty thorough investigation — not only what happened, but why it happened and also looking for ways to prevent these accidents from happening in the future.”

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