A Leonardo AW139 crash early on the morning of July 4 has killed American coal billionaire Chris Cline and six others, including the operator of a popular West Palm Beach, Florida helicopter school, Geoff Painter. The 2008 model year AW139, N32CC, went down in what is being described as black hole conditions shortly after taking off from Cline’s private island of Big Grand Cay around 12:45 a.m. local time for a 117-nm flight to Fort Lauderdale. However, the helicopter was not reported missing for 14 hours.
The wreckage was recovered in 16 feet of water approximately two miles from shore. The helicopter’s retractable landing gear remained extended. Photos of the wreckage show tail boom separation, the cabin section laying inverted on the seabed, and significant impact damage to the remaining fuselage. The helicopter was believed to be transporting Cline, his daughter Kameron, and several of her friends after Kameron Cline experienced a medical issue.
Painter, 52, was a British national and former RAF pilot with approximately 13,000 hours of flight time and the operator of Cloud 9 Helicopters based at the North County (F45) airport in West Palm Beach. He held an airline transport pilot rating for helicopters. A second pilot aboard, David Jude, 57, was employed by Cline. Both pilots were type-rated in the AW139 and held instrument ratings. The helicopter was registered to a company controlled by Cline, Challenger Management of Beckley, West Virginia. The Bahamas Air Accident Investigation Division, Department of Civil Aviation, the Royal Bahamas Police, and the Defense Force are investigating, along with technical assistance from the FAA, Canada’s Transportation Safety Board (TSB), and Leonardo.