What Was Billionaire Chris Cline's Actual Net Worth When He Died?

It was Independence Day weekend in 2019, and billionaire Christopher Cline and his daughter Kameron had gathered a group of friends at the family's private hideaway in the Bahamas, according to The Palm Beach Post. Several of Kameron's college-age friends were spending the weekend soaking up the sun. It was supposed to be a fun getaway, but instead, it ended in tragedy.

When a guest fell ill, the group decided to take a personal helicopter ride back to mainland Florida to get help. Though the helicopter pilot had not requested permission to take off from the island, the flight left around 2 a.m. on July 4, 2019 (via The Register-Herald). But tragically, the flight ended abruptly when the aircraft suddenly dropped into the ocean, killing all seven people on board.

The New York Times reports the helicopter crash happened almost immediately after taking off from Big Grand Cay. Jillian Clark and Brittney Searson, two of Kameron's college friends, were killed in the early-morning crash, as was her childhood friend ​​Delaney Wykle. The helicopter captain, David Jude, also perished in the accident. Chris Cline died the day before his 61st birthday, along with his 22-year-old daughter Kameron. There was one other victim, who was not publically identified.

The 'King of Coal'

Although the crash happened in the middle of the night, no one reported that the helicopter was missing until around 3 p.m. the next day, according to The New York Times. By 5 p.m., the Bahamian Air Accident Investigation Department went looking for the plane and found the remnants from the tragic accident. The seven victims, three women and four men, were found in the wreckage, 16 feet underwater.

Forbes reports that long before he was a coal billionaire, Chris Cline was interested in turning a profit even at the age of 6, when he would sell bags of dirt to his father for 1 cent each. When he was 15, he worked under the table at a coal mine in West Virginia. Savvy with money, some years later he purchased a mine for $1 million and sold it for $17 million. The Times reports Cline became known as the "King of Coal," and spent a lifetime creating a career in the energy industry.

According to Forbes, Cline supplied cheap coal at his company, Foresight Energy. By 2008, he was managing four mines that produced 13 tons of coal per hour — the highest output of all the U.S. coal mines. In 2014, he began mining in Canada as well.

Cline's coal mining legacy

The New York Times reports Chris Cline was known for his philanthropy. He donated $1 million each to super PACs supporting Sen. Marco Rubio and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, as well as to Donald Trump's presidential campaign. Cline also donated millions of dollars to his alma mater, Marshall University, per The Palm Beach Post. He supported causes both locally and abroad — Cline developed a sports center in West Virginia and built orphanages in Haiti.

According to People, Cline had a net worth of around $1.8 billion when he died. Cline had added $1.4 billion to his net worth in 2015, when he sold a major stake in his energy company. In addition, according to the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, Cline had filed irrevocable trusts for his children in 2017, giving each of his four children an equal stake in his company. 

Quoting from Cline's former official website, Heavy reports that at the time of his death, Cline owned and operated 25 coal mines throughout Illinois and Appalachia, which contained more than 3 billion tons of coal reserves.

A wrongful death lawsuit from the Cline family

Heavy reports Chris Cline owned numerous properties when he died, with mansions in West Virginia and Florida; per The Palm Beach Post, he also owned a ranch in Wyoming. According to WPTV, on July 25, 2019, days after the crash, Lesslie Ray and Timothy Elliot were assigned as the representatives for Cline's vast estate. The two were reportedly longtime colleagues of Cline, per the Palm Beach Daily News. Ray and Elliot listed one of Cline's properties for sale in 2021, and the mansion sold for more than $25 million.

The story of Chris Cline's legacy is not quite finished, per WPTV. His family filed a lawsuit against several companies, including the helicopter company, ​​Leonardo Company and AgustaWestland Philadelphia Corporation, in June 2022. They alleged the helicopter crashed due to pilot error — since the helicopter left in the dark, the pilot was disoriented and unable to fly properly. 

The Cline family believes the helicopter crew wasn't equipped to fly in emergency scenarios. The lawsuit is filed on behalf of Kameron and Chris, seeking wrongful death and survival action for the three children and other family members Cline left behind.