Hearses at Grand Bahama Sailing Club after the victims’ bodies arrived from Abaco. Photo: Vandyke Hepburn
By AVA TURNQUEST and DENISE MAYCOCK
A helicopter crash off Grand Cay, Abaco claimed the life of billionaire coal tycoon Chris Cline, his daughter and five other people yesterday.
Mr Cline died a day before his 61st birthday after their helicopter crashed as it was flying back to the United States,
Close family friend West Virginia Governor Jim Justice confirmed the deaths in a series of tweets yesterday evening following reports that seven Americans had been found in a submerged helicopter some two miles offshore.
According to police, the helicopter (N32DCC) took off from Big Grand Cay around 2am yesterday, on its way to Florida.
“The aircraft was reported missing to the Royal Bahamas Police Force at about 2.53pm on Thursday after it did not arrive at the intended destination,” the police statement read.
The helicopter was found overturned in 16 feet of water, off Grand Cay.
Other victims were identified as David Jude, two young adults from Beckley, West Virginia, unidentified friends and an unidentified helicopter mechanic from Florida, according to the Register-Herald, a West Virginia newspaper.
Tourism and Aviation Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar told The Tribune the incident happened around 2am yesterday, however local officials did not release information until last evening.
“It’s all very scant,” he said when asked about the reporting delay.
Mr D’Aguilar continued: “I’m sure the police will provide that information. I was advised it happened early this morning (Thursday). What then transpired from then and where we are now is still under investigation.”
Tributes poured in on social media for the seven passengers who perished in the crash, with many expressing shock and heartbreak over the tragedy.
The aircraft was headed to Fort Lauderdale with four women and three men, according to police.
“Today we lost a WV superstar,” Mr Justice’s tweet read. “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.”
US Senator Sue Cline wrote: “Prayers for family and friends of my great friend Chris Cline and his daughter Cameron and her dear friends who we loss (sic) today in a helicopter crash. Chris was (an) exceptional human being and we all loved him so much. Such a loss for all seven aboard today. Our hearts are broken.”
Beckley Mayor Rob Rappold told the Register-Herald: “Words can’t express the absolute sorrow and disbelief. Southern West Virginia was Chris’ love and his legacy of compassion and giving back will last for ever.”
The helicopter was found two miles offshore, according to police.
The Air Accident Investigation Department will head to Grand Cay this morning to begin investigations, according to Chief Investigator Delvin Major.
He said the department was notified of the incident sometime after 4pm.
“We do not know the time when it happened, a lot of information is going around. We cannot say that, we are the investigators, we can’t speculate. The timeline is still unclear,” Mr Major said.