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Investigators scour scene of Bahamas chopper crash for clues

By NATALIE SCHACHAR and TRAVIS LOLLERJuly 6, 2019
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In this handout photo provided by the Bahamas ZNS Network, a recovery team stands by at the wreckage site where a helicopter carrying four women and three men, including billionaire coal entrepreneur Chris Cline and his daughter, crashed outside a string of islands Cline owned in the Bahamas, Friday, July 5, 2019. The bodies of the four women and three men were recovered and taken to the Bahamian capital of Nassau to be officially identified. (Krystel Knowles/Bahamas ZNS Network via AP)
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In this handout photo provided by the Bahamas ZNS Network, a recovery team stands by at the wreckage site where a helicopter carrying four women and three men, including billionaire coal entrepreneur Chris Cline and his daughter, crashed outside a string of islands Cline owned in the Bahamas, Friday, July 5, 2019. The bodies of the four women and three men were recovered and taken to the Bahamian capital of Nassau to be officially identified. (Krystel Knowles/Bahamas ZNS Network via AP)

Accident investigators in the Bahamas are going well below the surface of the water to try to figure out what went wrong in the moments before a helicopter crashed after takeoff and killed seven people, including West Virginia coal magnate Chris Cline.

The Air Accident Investigation Department of the Bahamas said via Twitter late Friday that salvage teams were conducting “underwater surveying and mapping of debris field.” The department said the operation has been underway since the crash of the Augusta AW139 chopper, which went down Thursday in waters just off Grand Cay after departing for Fort Lauderdale, 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 Cline and the others had failed to arrive in Fort Lauderdale as expected.

Those killed included Cline’s 22-year-old daughter, Kameron, and three of her close friends: Brittney Layne Searson, Jillian Clark, and Delaney Wykle. Searson, Clark and Kameron Cline were recent graduates of Louisiana State University. Wykle had recently graduated from West Virginia University.

Paula Wykle, Delaney’s mother, said she saw her daughter for about three hours after she passed her nursing boards on Tuesday. Then Delaney “went to the Bahamas to meet her childhood best friend,” Kameron Cline, whom she had not seen in about a year.

“She was going to start work in August and we told her, ‘This is your last chance to go before you become a grown-up,’” her mother said.

Wykle said that 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. That’s how she ended up on the helicopter.

“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 Wykle family is from Beckley, West Virginia.

F. King Alexander, Louisiana State University’s president, issued a statement of condolence to all the crash victims and their families.

“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,” Alexander said.

The Searson family requested privacy in a statement Saturday in which they said their hearts have been “shattered at the loss of our beautiful daughter.” She had a lifelong passion for dance and had just received a degree in kinesiology.

Brad Ullman, executive director of the West Virginia Golf Association, confirmed that David Jude also was killed in the crash. The association said in a Facebook post that Jude was a “great ambassador for the game.”

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.

The Air Accident Investigation Department of the Bahamas said its investigators will be assisted by the National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Aviation Administration, the manufacturer of the aircraft and engine and other agencies.

“Once on site our team will collect data, conduct witness interviews, examine and photograph the wreckage before it is transported to the facility in Florida for further analysis and documentation,” the department said. “We will also be looking to examine the maintenance history of the craft, review weather information, operations policies, regulations requirements and the operation of the aircraft.

On Friday, the death of Chris Cline led to eulogies from coal industry leaders, government officials and academics who described him as a visionary who was generous with his $1.8 billion fortune.

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.

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This story has been corrected to show that Delaney Wykle was a recent graduate of West Virginia University and to correct the spelling of Geoffrey Painter’s name.

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Associated Press writer Chevel Johnson contributed to this report from New Orleans. Natalie Schachar reported from Mexico City and Travis Loller from Nashville, Tennessee.

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