The Investigation Into Billionaire Chris Cline's Helicopter Crash Is 'Just Beginning' — Finding the Cause Could Take Months
Authorities say it could take up to 24 months to determine what caused the chopper crash that killed Chris Cline, his daughter and five others
Authorities have recovered the damaged helicopter that crashed in the Bahamas last week, killing billionaire Chris Cline, his daughter and five others early on the Fourth of July.
But, investigators say, it could take months before they determine what caused the crash.
Cline, a 60-year-old coal tycoon, and his group of six crashed into the water shortly after leaving Grand Cay in the Bahamas, The New York Times reported. There were no survivors and authorities are inspecting the aircraft as part of their investigation.
Bahamas Police spokeswoman Shanta Knowles told the Associated Press that she did not believe there was a distress call before the aircraft went down. The Palm Beach Post reported that weather was likely not an issue.
Local authorities have since handed over the investigation to the National Transportation Safety Board in the U.S.
“The helicopter is in a secure location protected from the elements,” Eric Weiss, an NTSB spokesman, tells PEOPLE. “We’re just beginning the investigation so we won’t have any probable cause [of the crash] until the end of the investigation which could take 12 to 24 months.”
Cline and his 22-year-old daughter, Kameron Cline, were among the seven victims. News reports identified the other five killed as David Jude and Geoffrey Painter, both with a helicopter company; as well as Jillian Clark, Brittney Searson and Delaney Wykle, Kameron’s friends.
Authorities have said the Clines’ helicopter took off for Fort Lauderdale, Florida, around 2 a.m. on Thursday and was reported missing nearly 13 hours later at 2:50 p.m., according to CNN.
The group had flown to the Bahamas for the holiday and relatives reported the group missing when they didn’t make it back to Florida, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Bahamian authorities found the chopper in the water near the Abaco Islands, not far from Grand Cay.
In a statement to PEOPLE, the Cline family said, “We are all so deeply saddened. … This loss will be felt by all those who had the privilege of having known them.”
The family described Cline as “was one of West Virginia’s strongest sons, an American original, full of grit, integrity, intelligence and humor, a testament that our hopes and dreams are achievable when we believe and commit ourselves to action.”
Kameron and Searson were remembered as close friends, with teachers calling them “inseparable.”
“They were very good students, cheerful and lit up the room when they were in there,” social studies teacher Steven Anderson told local TV station WPEC. “It was a privilege to teach them. They made teaching rewarding.”
Searson’s family also released a statement to PEOPLE after her death.
“Our hearts are shattered at the loss of our beautiful daughter Brittney Layne Searson. Brittney was an amazing girl — full of life, love, and adventure. She was smart, courageous, beautiful inside and out, and a born leader,” they said.
Their statement continued: “Our family grieves deeply with all other victims of this tragedy and asks for your prayers and privacy as we lay our beloved daughter to rest.”