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Billionaire philanthropist Chris Cline dies

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IMAGE: Chris Cline in 2014
Chris Cline at the dedication of the Chris Cline Athletic Complex at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia, in 2014. Cline, the founder of Foresight Energy, was a major donor to Marshall and other West Virginia institutions.   -   Copyright  Marshall University
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Chris Cline, the billionaire West Virginia coal executive and philanthropist, died Thursday, West Virginia officials said. He was 60.

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

The Associated Press reported that Cline and six other people were killed when their helicopter crashed in Walker's Bay, in the Abaco Islands, on its way from the Bahamas to Florida.

Bahamian police confirmed that seven people — four females and three males — were killed when a helicopter crashed about near Grand Cay in the Abaco Islands on Thursday while on its way to Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

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

Police didn't identify the victims, and NBC News couldn't immediately confirm that Cline was aboard the helicopter that crashed.

Justice called Cline "a very close friend" and a "superstar" on Twitter.

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

Jenkins told NBC affiliate WVVA of Bluefield, West Virginia, that he was "devastated by the loss of Chris Cline."

"This is a real loss of a loving father for his family, heart breaking for them and all of the state," he said.

Cline sold a controlling stake in Foresight it 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 athletic department.

He also donated millions of dollars to his alma mater, Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia, whose 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."