Helicopter Carrying Billionaire Chris Cline and 6 Others Crashed Just 1 Minute After Taking Off
The helicopter carrying billionaire coal tycoon Chris Cline, his daughter Kameron, and five others in the Bahamas was only up in the air for a minute before it spiraled out of control and crashed on the Fourth of July, according to the National Transportation Safety Board, who on Wednesday released a preliminary report in the ongoing investigation into the deadly crash.
Cline, 60, and his 22-year-old daughter, Kameron, were flying in the early hours of the morning from Cline’s private island Big Grand Cay to Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, at the time of the deadly crash.
“The purpose of the accident flight was to transport two of the passengers to FLL for medical treatment,” authorities said, without naming who had fallen ill (local reports have said Kameron had been experiencing an unspecified medical emergency).
Both got on board a 17-seat August AW139 aircraft, which had arrived from Palm Beach International Airport between 1:30 and 1:45 a.m. local time, the NTSB said. The chopper remained on the landing pad with the engines running while the passengers boarded.
One witness observed the helicopter take off and depart soon after, the NTSB reported. The witness said it climbed to about 30 to 40 feet and accelerated while in a nose-down attitude, a pattern he noted was not unusual.
Another witness, however, told authorities the rotorcraft had climbed between 40 and 50 feet before it spun out of control three or four times and plummeted into the ocean some 1.2 miles away.
That witness also reported hearing a “whoosh whoosh whoosh” sound before the helicopter crashed, the NSTB said. He suspected a crash and went out on his boat at around 2:05 a.m. to try to find the chopper, using spotlights to inspect the area, but was unable to locate it.
The Federal Aviation Administration issued an alert notice for the overdue flight at about 3:21 p.m. the next day, after family members alerted authorities of the missing helicopter, according to the NTSB’s report.
It was found by local residents sometime between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. in about 16 feet of water, the NTSB said. The aircraft was upside down with all five main rotor blades separated. Authorities are still examining the recovered wreckage.
A cause of the crash has not yet been determined, the NTSB said. Investigators have previously said it could take months before they make a determination.
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.”