West Virginia, Marshall mourns loss of donor Chris Cline

Coal tycoon and philanthropist Chris Cline, along with seven others, died in a helicopter crash on July 4 in the Bahamas while en route to Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

A native of Beckley, West Virginia, Cline began work in the coal industry at an early age. He founded the Cline Group and Foresight Energy, both involving mining and energy.

Cline was also an avid Marshall supporter and donor.

“Chris Cline was a true Son of Marshall,” Athletic Director Mike Hamrick said in a HerdZone press release. “He was not only a personal friend of mine, he was a friend of Marshall and Marshall Athletics, with the naming of our Chris Cline Athletic Complex to honor his generosity, his dedication to our university and our student-athletes will live on.” 

Cline first contributed $5 million to establish an endowment to support new faculty and scientists in the Marshall University Sports Medicine Institute. 

That $5 million was doubled by a match through the West Virginia Research Trust Fund’s “Bucks for Brains” program. Cline later contributed another $3.5 million to the Vision Campaign—the first major fundraising effort undertaken by Marshall Athletics and the Big Green Scholarship Foundation.

In recognition of his generosity, the university dedicated the Chris Cline Athletic Complex in 2014. The facility features a 120-yard indoor football practice field, as well as a 300-meter track and field oval, the Chad Pennington Hall of Fame, the Buck Harless Student-Athlete Academic Center and the sports medicine institute. 

Cline’s death has gained national attention through social media. 

President Donald J. Trump tweeted on July 5: “My deepest sympathies go out to the family and friends of great businessman and energy expert Chris Cline, his wonderful daughter, Kameron, and their friends, on the tragic accident which took place in the Bahamas. The great people of West Virginia will never forget them!” 

West Virginia Governor Jim Justice also tweeted: “Today we lost a WV superstar and I lost a very close friend. Our families go back to the beginning of the Cline empire – Pioneer Fuel. Chris Cline built an empire and on every occasion was always there to give. What a wonderful, loving, and giving man.”

Cline’s daughter, Kameron Cline, 22, and her sorority sisters Brittney Searson, 21, and Killian Clark, 22, also died in the accident. All three women were recent graduates of Louisiana State University. 

Delaney Wykle, 22, a childhood friend of Cline’s daughter was also killed in the accident. She was a recent graduate of West Virginia University. 

Pilot Geoffrey Lee Painter, 52, and family friend David Jude, 52 of Kentucky were also in the accident.

The helicopter was discovered about two miles from the Cline’s private island in the Bahamas and the investigation is still underway. 

Sydney Shelton can be contacted at [email protected]