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Chris Cline, billionaire coal executive and philanthropist, dies at 60

The 60-year-old died in a helicopter crash off the coast of the Bahamas alongside his daughter, friends and the pilot, according to his attorney.
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Billionaire West Virginia coal executive and philanthropist Chris Cline died in a helicopter crash off the coast of the Bahamas on Thursday, according to his lawyer.

He was 60.

Six others also died in the crash including Cline's daughter, friends and the pilot, attorney Brian Glasser told NBC News.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice and Evan Jenkins, a justice on the state Supreme Court, both paid tributes to Cline, the founder of Foresight Energy of St. Louis, one of the nation's biggest coal companies.

In a tweet, Justice called Cline "a very close friend" and a "superstar."

"Chris Cline built an empire and on every occasion was always there to give," the governor said. "What a wonderful, loving and giving man."

Bahamian police confirmed that seven people — four females and three males — died when the helicopter crashed near Grand Cay in the Abaco Islands on Thursday while on its way to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Police didn't release the names of the victims.

Officers and residents of Grand Cay discovered the aircraft, which had taken off at about 2 a.m. ET, overturned in 16 feet of water Thursday afternoon, police said.

Jenkins posted on Facebook that he was "heartbroken to learn that Chris Cline, his daughter, friends and pilot lost their lives in a tragic accident."

"His life's story was one of hard work, love of family and caring support for others," he added.

Cline sold a controlling stake in Foresight for $1.4 billion in 2015. He resigned from Foresight's board in 2017 but kept ownership of about a quarter of the company.

Forbes magazine put his personal wealth at $1.8 billion at the time of his death.

Cline, who was raised in West Virginia, gave a lot of that money to various charities. In 2011, his foundation donated $5 million to West Virginia University's medical school and the athletic department.

He also donated millions of dollars to his alma mater, Marshall University in West Virginia, where the athletic complex is named in his honor.

"Our hearts are heavy with the terrible news this evening of the passing of prominent Son of Marshall Chris Cline," Jerome Gilbert, the university's president, said in a statement Thursday.

"Chris's generosity to our research and athletics programs has made a mark on Marshall University," Gilbert said. "I am praying for his family."

In 2012, Cline was a target of extortion by Vivek Shah, an actor who had small roles in several movies and television shows, including "Bones" and "Hotel Hollywood."

According to the FBI, Shah demanded millions of dollars from Cline and other high-profile figures — including the disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein; Eric Lefkofsky, a founder of the ecommerce marketplace Groupon; and oil and gas billionaire Terry Pegula — threatening to kill members of their families if they didn't pay up.

Shah's plot was discovered when police found a fake ID in his home in Los Angeles, the FBI said. He was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2013.