Billionaire Chris Cline’s Helicopter Was in the Air for Just 1 Minute Before Crashing, NTSB Says

July 25, 2019 Updated: July 25, 2019

The helicopter carrying West Virginia coal magnate Chris Cline crashed just one minute after takeoff earlier this month in an apparent accident that killed everyone on board.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released a preliminary report about the July 4 crash, which doesn’t include the cause.

Cline, his daughter Kameron and three of her friends died along with a pilot and copilot in the crash near the Bahamas.

Cline, 60, was going from private island Big Grand Cay to Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, early in the morning.

(West Virginia coal billionaire and philanthropist Chris Cline died in a helicopter crash near the Bahamas on Thursday, the governor said. (Andrew Harrwe/Bloomberg via Getty)

According to the NTSB’s report (pdf), “The witness went out on his boat about 0205 (2:05 a.m.) and used spotlights to search the area where he thought the helicopter had crashed but was unable to locate it.”

“The purpose of the accident flight was to transport two of the passengers to FLL for medical treatment,” authorities said. They didn’t name who was sick, although local news reports identified Kameron as the person who was having a medical emergency.

The agency said a witness observed the helicopter take off and depart before climbing about 40 feet before accelerating with its nose down.

A witness told officials that the helicopter climbed up to 50 feet before it spun out of control and plunged into the ocean.

“The helicopter was found inverted and the tailboom was separated from the aft fuselage and was recovered in multiple pieces. All five main rotor blades were separated but recovered,” the NTSB also wrote. “The tail rotor assembly, which was also separated was subsequently recovered. All four tail rotor blades were separated, and one tail rotor blade was not recovered.”

Eric Weiss, a spokesperson for the National Transportation Safety Board, said the helicopter’s tailboom was found 1.6 miles southwest of the crash site, WV Metro News reported.

“The helicopter was found inverted,” Weiss added. “All five main rotor blades were separated, but recovered.”

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

The other crash victims were identified as Brittney Searson, 22, of Florida; Jillian Clark, 22, from Louisiana; Delaney Wykle, 22, of Beckley; David Jude, 57; and Geoffrey Painter, 52, according to the report.

Brian Glasser, an attorney for Cline noted that “the evidence points to catastrophic mechanical failure, probably having to do with the tail.”

Witness Speaks

Earlier this month, a witness recalled the harrowing moment that divers pulled billionaire Chris Cline’s body from a crashed helicopter off the coast of the Bahamas.

It “didn’t get very high,” Mathien McIntosh, who worked for Cline, was quoted by the New York Post as saying. “It went up and in about five it just ‘boop.’ The light just disappeared and it was a loud crash. It was a loud bang in the water.”

He and his brother-in-law “jumped in our boats and we went searching” at around 2:30 a.m.

“So we called back to the island and they said, ‘No, no, no. The chopper is back in the States.’ So, I said OK, fine,” he said.

McIntosh said he was searching for the wreck when it was found.

“Everybody just was in a daze. Man, it was just tears, you know? It was just tears,” he said. “Mr. Cline actually…was one of the first ones that came out” of the water, he added.

“Just then, a kid came out. It was four kids and they were about 19 to 21 years of age, kids in their prime. They had just graduated from college and came home to have fun and then boom; here today and gone tomorrow,” he recalled.

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