In this undated provided by Kim Searson, Brittney Searson poses at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, La. Searson was among those killed when a helicopter carrying billionaire coal entrepreneur Chris Cline crashed in the Bahamas on Thursday, July 4, 2019. (Kim Searson via AP)

Investigators search for clues in Bahamas chopper crash

July 06, 2019 - 4:09 pm

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 "in place at the crash site" and were conducting "underwater surveying and mapping of debris field." The department says that an operation has been underway since the crash of the Augusta AW139 chopper in waters just off Grand Cay on Thursday.

Authorities said no distress call is believed to have been made and information still needed to be gathered before they could draw conclusions.

"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."

The department said its investigators would be assisted by the National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Aviation Administration, the manufacturer of the aircraft and engine and other agencies. It also said the salvaged helicopter would be inspected in Florida.

Cline, his 22-year-old daughter, Kameron, and five other people were killed. Authorities originally began their search after police received a report from Florida that Cline and the others had failed to arrive in Fort Lauderdale as expected. Traveling with the Clines were three of Kameron's close friends: Brittney Layne Searson, Jillian Clark, and Delaney Wykle.

Searson, Clark and Kameron Cline three were recent graduates of Louisiana State University. Wykle had recently graduated from West Virginia University.

F. King Alexander, the 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 issued a statement Saturday asking for privacy and expressing how their hearts have been "shattered at the loss of our beautiful daughter." She had a lifelong passion for dance and had just graduated from Louisiana State University with a degree in kinesiology.

She is survived by her mother, Kimberly; her father, Wayne; and a brother, Shane.

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. They hadn't seen each other 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. The Wykle family is from Beckley, West Virginia.

Brad Ullman, executive director of the West Virginia Golf Association, confirmed that David Jude was also on board and 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.

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 worked his way out of West Virginia's underground mines to form an energy development business that grew into one of the country's top coal producers.

He amassed 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 writers Travis Loller and Chevel Johnson contributed to this report from Nashville and New Orleans. Natalie Schachar reported from Mexico City.

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