Chris Cline, the self-made billionaire coal baron who ran one of the nation’s top-productive mining firms, died in a Fourth of July helicopter crash just one day before he would have turned 61.
According to The Associated Press, the entrepreneur boarded an ill-fated flight from the Big Grand Cay in the Bahamas to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It tumbled into the ocean after takeoff. Cline’s daughter, Kameron, and five other individuals on board also died, Bloomberg reported.
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) announced Cline’s death Thursday night in a tweet, calling him a “WV superstar” who “built an empire.”
Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) shared his condolences soon after, writing that Cline “came from humble beginnings” and “never forgot his roots.”
Cline, a West Virginia native born into a family whose legacy was built on coal, started his first mining job in 1980 at age 22. He then climbed his way from the underground up, transitioning into the management side.
In 1990, he founded the Cline Group, an energy development firm that operated in the Appalachian region. After resources ran dry, Cline set his sights westward.
In 2006, he founded Foresight Energy, a Missouri-based company that has focused on developing Illinois’ mining industry.
Despite posthumous praise from elected officials, former Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan sued Cline’s company and won, charging it had polluted the state’s water with toxic coal sludge. The case was settled for $300,000, according to Forbes.
The wealth sent Cline from humble beginnings to life on a 150-acre property in Beckley, which boasted a go-kart racing track and pastures filled with horses, llamas and goats, West Virginia Metro News reported.
In 2015, he contributed $1 million to a super PAC backing former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s (R) presidential campaign, Bloomberg reported. He later gave to another super PAC supporting Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R) run, according to The New York Times.
Cline was also known as a philanthropist, and donated millions to sports medicine research at Marshall University, in addition to contributing hefty sums to West Virginia University’s School of Medicine and its Department of Intercollegiate Athletics.