American billionaire dies in helicopter crash

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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, according to multiple news reports.

The helicopter carrying 60-year-old Cline and the rest smashed into the water shortly after leaving Grand Cay, an island in the Bahamas, The New York Times reported. 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 Cline’s 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 Virginia’s 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 Kameron Cline, confirmed to PEOPLE that Searson was also among the victims.

The group had set out for Florida because of a possible illness, according to the Beckley Register-Herald, citing friends’ accounts.

The cause of the crash was unclear but an investigation was underway, according to the Associated 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 the Times.

Cline, whose net worth was $1.8 billion, according to Forbes, was remembered as a generous and enterprising spirit.

His 61st birthday would have been on Friday, according to the Times.

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