HUNTINGTON — Billionaire coal magnate and major Marshall University donor Chris Cline died in a helicopter crash Thursday, according to reports in the Beckley Register-Herald.
Cline, who would have turned 61 years old on Friday, was known for his philanthropy, died along with six others when the helicopter they were in went down in the waters off the coast of the Bahamas.
According to those cited in the report, Cline’s helicopter was heading from the Bahamas to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, when it crashed into the Atlantic Ocean.
The Register-Herald story cited friends of Cline’s who said Cline was lost in the crash along with his daughter, David Jude, Delaney Wykle, two unidentified friends and an unidentified helicopter mechanic from Florida. It was not immediately known which of Cline’s two daughters — Kameron or Candice — was among those who perished.
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice posted a tweet at 8:52 p.m. Thursday expressing condolences to the Cline family.
“Today we lost a WV superstar and I lost a very close friend,” Justice said in the tweet. “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. ...
“Cathy and I are praying for his family and all those involved in this tragedy.”
Cline built himself into a billionaire coal tycoon and entrepreneur that landed him on Forbes list of billionaires in 2012 at No. 854 with an estimated worth of $1.5 billion. That figure grew to $1.9 billion in 2017.
The former Marshall University student, who dropped out at age 22 to get into the coal business with his father, used his wealth to become a major benefactor to the state’s universities.
Cline was a major contributor to Marshall’s VISION campaign in 2011 when he made a $5 million donation to establish an endowment to support new faculty and scientists for Marshall’s Sports Medicine Institute.
Later, the Beckley native donated another $3.5 million to the project as it neared its end, making his own contributions $8.5 million for the project that led to the construction of Marshall’s indoor athletic facility, Sports Medicine Institute, Hall of Fame and state-of-the-art soccer complex.
“It’s your home state, it’s your family, it’s what you grew up with,” Cline said in a Herdzone.com story about the complex. “You learn that these people are your family, no matter where you move to in life afterwards.
“So, 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.”
For his efforts within the VISION Campaign, Marshall’s new indoor facility was named the Chris Cline Indoor Athletic Complex in a ceremony on Sept. 6, 2014.
Marshall Athletic Director Mike Hamrick, who attended Marshall University with Cline, said he was saddened at the news of his friend’s passing.
“He was not only a personal friend of mine, he was a friend of Marshall and Marshall Athletics,” Hamrick said. “With the naming of our Chris Cline Athletic Complex to honor his generosity, his dedication to our university and our student-athletics will live on. He was so proud of the complex and was so excited the day we dedicated it. I sure know Marshall University Athletics will miss Chris, as will I. He was a vital part of our Athletics family.”
Marshall University President Jerome Gilbert also took to social media Thursday evening to express the difficulty of losing a man who had been one of Marshall’s biggest supporters.
“Our hearts are heavy with the terrible news this evening of the passing of prominent Son of Marshall Chris Cline,” Gilbert’s tweet read. “Chris’s generosity to our research and athletics programs has made a mark on Marshall University. I am praying for his family.”
Cline also was a major contributor to West Virginia University.
According to reports, 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 in 2011.
Cline owned a 33,413-square-foot mansion in North Palm Beach, Florida, which is where he was expected to be returning to Thursday. He also owned a 150-acre property in Beckley that featured a lake, go-kart track and pastures for several animals, including horses, goats and llamas.