Billionaire Chris Cline, who died in helicopter crash, was coal tycoon and philanthropist

Billionaire Chris Cline died in a helicopter crash on July 4, 2019. (©LILA PHOTO)

Chris Cline, a self-made billionaire from West Virginia who was dubbed the "King of Coal," died in a helicopter crash Thursday off Grand Cay island in the Bahamas.

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Cline was among the seven people killed in the crash a day before his 61st birthday, according to Bloomberg. West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice mourned the loss of the entrepreneur.

“Today we lost a WV (West Virginia) superstar and I lost a very close friend,” Justice tweeted on Thursday. “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.”

Cline’s attorney, Brian Glasser, confirmed Cline’s death on Twitter.

“Our client Chris Cline died today. A billionaire, he never lost touch with the day he lived in a double wide and used a blow dryer to thaw his winter pipes,” he wrote. “He was the most courageous client we ever had the privilege to represent. We will not see his like again. RIP.”

Cline made his journey as a coal tycoon after he began working in the mines at 22 years old in 1980. Ten years later, he founded the Cline Group, an energy development company.

In 2006, he founded Foresight Energy LP, headquartered in St. Louis. Mo. At its peak, the company was worth $2.6 billion, according to Forbes. Foresight was formed to “develop and operate the company’s Illinois mining assets,” according to the company’s website.

In 2014, he took the firm public and sold a controlling stake for $1.4 billion in 2015, Forbes reported. In 2017, he opened a mine in Nova Scotia and was planning on opening another in Canada.

The coal tycoon was a major donor to Republicans including President Trump. He donated $1 million to Trump’s inauguration, according to Open Secrets. He donated $1 million former Gov. Jeb Bush’s to a super PAC supporting his 2016 presidential campaign, Bloomberg reported.

At the time of his death, Cline was estimated to be worth $1.8 billion, Forbes reported.

Cline also donated to Marshall University in West Virginia, his alma mater. The university’s president, Jerome A. Gilbert, mourned the loss on Twitter.

“Our hearts are heavy with the terrible news this evening of the passing of prominent Son of Marshall Chris Cline,” he wrote. Chris’s generosity to our research and athletics programs has made a mark on Marshall University. I am praying for his family.”

Cline’s first wife died of breast cancer in 1987. He had four children, two sons and two daughters.

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The cause of the crash was not immediately known but the Royal Bahamas Police Force said an investigation with civil aviation authorities was underway. Police identified those killed as four women and three men but did not immediately provide names.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

*The photo credit was updated on 7/11/2019.