Investigators Recover Helicopter That Crashed in Bahamas, All Victims Identified

By The Associated Press

Accident investigators in the Bahamas say they have recovered the helicopter that crashed after taking off from a remote private island on July 4, killing coal billionaire Chris Cline and six other Americans, as well as a British citizen.

The Bahamas Air Accident Investigation Department said on its website that a Florida-based contractor pulled the Agusta AW139 helicopter from the ocean late Saturday night.

The helicopter was expected to be taken to Fort Lauderdale and then to an accident investigation facility in Fort Pierce, Florida.

Authorities have said it is too early to draw conclusions about the cause of the crash. They do not believe a distress call was made, and they only began searching after police received a report from Florida that the craft had failed to arrive in Fort Lauderdale as expected.

Bahamas Americans Killed
Operators unload of an aircraft the body of one of the deceased in the helicopter crash in Nassau, Bahamas, on July 5, 2019. (ZnsBahamas/AP Photo)

Chris Cline would have turned 61 on Friday.

His daughter, Kameron Cline, 22, was aboard the helicopter with him, according to a family statement.

Bahamas police identified the other victims as David Jude, 56, of Kentucky; Brittney Layne Searson, 21, of Florida; Jillian Nicole Clark, 22, of Los Angeles; and Delaney Lee Wykle, 22, of Washington. Searson, Clark and Kameron Cline were recent graduates of Louisiana State University. Wykle had recently graduated from West Virginia University.

Brittney Searson poses at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, La. Searson was among those killed when a helicopter carrying billionaire coal entrepreneur Chris Cline crashed in the Bahamas on Thursday, July 4, 2019. (Kim Searson via AP)

The pilot was identified as Geoffrey Lee Painter, 52, of the United Kingdom.

“The LSU community is mourning the loss of three recent graduates, along with all of those who lost their lives in this tragic accident. Kameron, Jillian and Brittney were all May 2019 graduates and had such bright futures ahead of them. Our deepest sympathies go out to the family and friends of everyone affected,” Louisiana State University said in a statement.

West Virginia Golf Association sent its condolences to Jude’s family.

“David was a great ambassador for the game of golf in the mountain state and always had a smile on his face. Please keep the Jude family in your thoughts and prayers in this difficult time,” it said in a statement.

Brad Ullman, executive director of the West Virginia Golf Association, confirmed that David Jude also was killed in the crash.

Bahamas Police Supt. Shanta Knowles said Saturday that Geoffrey Painter of Barnstaple in the United Kingdom also was killed, and she confirmed the other victims’ identities to The Associated Press.

Cline began toiling in the mines of southern West Virginia at a young age, rising through the ranks of his father’s company quickly before forming his own energy development business, the Cline Group, which grew into one of the country’s top coal producers.

He went on to amass a fortune and became a major Republican donor.

Coal tycoon Chris Cline
Chris Cline speaks as Marshall University dedicates the new indoor practice facility as the Chris Cline Athletic Complex in Huntington, W.Va., on Sept. 6, 2014. (Sholten Singer/The Herald-Dispatch via AP)

Paula Wykle, Delaney’s mother, said her daughter had just passed her nursing boards and when one of the vacationing party got sick and needed to be transported back to the mainland, Delaney Wykle wanted to be there to help.

“She got to practice nursing for one day,” Wykle said, calling her daughter “smart, loving, and one of the best friends anyone could ever ask for.”

The accident investigation department also said it was interviewing witnesses on Big Grand Cay, the island owned by Cline. The department has said the National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Safety Board of Italy and the manufacturer of the aircraft and engine would all provide assistance with the investigation.

The CNN Wire contributed to this report.