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Descendants of deceased billionaire coal magnate Chris Cline file wrongful death lawsuit

Suit claims that pilots were unqualified to fly helicopter
Chris Cline, a West Virginia native who built a coal empire and a reputation for charitable giving, was one of 7 people killed in a helicopter crash off the coast of the Bahamas.
Posted at 2:23 PM, Jun 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-27 19:32:51-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Nearly three years after Palm Beach County billionaire Chris Cline and his daughter were killed in a helicopter crash in the Bahamas, his descendants have filed a lawsuit against multiple companies including one located at Palm Beach International Airport.

The 69-page suit claims that the designer and manufacturer of the helicopter, Leonardo Company and Agusta Westland Philadelphia Corporation, were aware that the crew was unqualified to fly the aircraft.

Family members of Cline believe that AWPC and/or Leonardo were cognizant that the pilots had insufficient training and did not have the ability to respond to emergency situations.

Federal officials said last year that pilot error caused the helicopter crash that killed Cline and six others in 2019.

A National Transportation Safety Board said that the two pilots' decision to take off over water in dark night conditions with no external visual reference resulted in spatial disorientation and the subsequent crash off Big Grand Cay.

Read the full lawsuit below:

The suit cites that Rotortech, based at PBIA, conducted significant maintenance on the helicopter in Palm Beach County in the months leading up to the crash, including within a week of the tragedy. This included maintenance on the helicopter's flight control, avionics systems and autopilot.

Rotortech completed maintenance of the helicopter before the deadly crash and pronounced the helicopter safe for flight, however, the suit claims that there were reports that the aircraft's cyclic control was jamming in flight.

The lawsuit also claims that the flight crew's actions "were specifically known to, and documented by, the defendants AWPC and/or Leonardo as a result of flight training that these defendants provided to the accident flight crew in 2017 and 2018."

Cline's descendants believe that AWPC and/or Leonardo were aware that the helicopter's crew posed a "dangerous, deadly and unsafe safety risk" due to their lack of proficiency in piloting the aircraft.

The plaintiffs believe the pilots were "recklessly and/or carelessly certified" and had "dangerous, deadly and unsafe deficiencies."

In this July 7, 2019 photo made available by the Bahamas Air Accident Investigation Department, the wreckage of a Augusta SPA helicopter is recovered off the coast of Grand Cay, in the Abacos, Bahamas. Coal billionaire Chris Cline and six other Americans died in the crash on July 4, 2019, as they were departing the Bahamas towards Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
In this July 7, 2019 photo made available by the Bahamas Air Accident Investigation Department, the wreckage of a Augusta SPA helicopter is recovered off the coast of Grand Cay, in the Abacos, Bahamas. Coal billionaire Chris Cline and six other Americans died in the crash on July 4, 2019, as they were departing the Bahamas towards Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

The suit says that training records show that the helicopter's crew indicated early on that they had problems piloting the helicopter, which would have put the lives of the crew and their passengers in danger.

Despite these claims by the plaintiffs, the flight crew was certified by AWPC and/or Leonardo in October 2017. This certification enabled the crew to undergo the evaluation flight for the rating needed to operate the helicopter in the fatal crash.

Recurring training of the crew occurred in November 2018 and consisted of training in a flight simulator as opposed to the actual helicopter.

"The flight instructor who was assigned to provide the crew with simulator-based flight instruction immediately recognized that the accident flight crew posed a significant safety hazard in that they were dangerous and unsafe, were severely deficient in their ability to pilot the accident helicopter and failed to understand the helicopter’s sophisticated computer-based flight systems," according to the lawsuit.

Cline and his family were having a birthday party in the Bahamas to celebrate his 61st birthday when one of his daughter's friends became seriously ill on July 3, 2019. Cline's 22-year-old daughter, Kameron, also became ill shortly thereafter.

Cline requested that the two pilots fly the young women to Florida for treatment.

The helicopter departed the Bahamas just before 1 a.m. July 4, 2019 so they could receive medical care.

The lawsuit said the crew "repeated the same mistakes during this flight" that AWPC and/or Leonardo observed and documented during their recurring training.

The helicopter later crashed at about 1:53 a.m., killing the seven people on board.

Cline, a West Virginia native who was one of the largest independent coal operators in the world, left behind three surviving children.

The lawsuit is seeking wrongful death and survival compensatory damages.