Mathien McIntosh watched his boss’ helicopter take off from Big Grand Cay Thursday morning and then saw it disappear and crash.
American billionaire Chris Cline, along with six other people, were killed after the helicopter they were on crashed two miles off Grand Cay.
Cline is the owner of Big Grand Cay.
“The night before, me and my brother-in-law, we watched the chopper come in,” McIntosh told The Guardian yesterday.
“We watched it land and in about half an hour it [went] back up.
“As it [went] back up, it didn’t get very high. It went up and in about five minutes it just ‘boop’.
“The light just disappeared and it was a loud crash. It was a loud bang in the water.”
He said, “We jumped in our boats and we went searching. This was about 2:30 a.m. and we went searching from about 2 a.m. to 4 a.m., almost 5 a.m., the next day.
“Where it was so dark, we really couldn’t see anything because it was too dark so we called back to the island and they said, ‘No, no, no. The chopper is back in the states.’ So, I said ok, fine.”
McIntosh said he thought that was it.
But police said around 2 p.m. on Thursday, Cline’s helicopter was reported missing.
Delvin Major, chief investigator at the Air Accident Investigation Department, said the helicopter had departed Grand Cay, Abaco, and was en route to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, when it crashed.
Search and rescue efforts began after the aircraft was reported “overdue” by authorities, according to Major.
McIntosh said he then went to Big Grand Cay to break the news to Cline’s employees.
Then he set out with officials to find the chopper.
When officials finally located the crash site, McIntosh said he was “heartbroken”.
“Everybody just was in a daze. Man, it was just tears, you know? It was just tears.”
He was also present when divers pulled Cline’s body out of the water.
McIntosh struggled to recount the discovery.
“Mr. Cline actually…was one of the first ones that came out,” he said, choking back tears.
“…Just then, a kid came out. It was four kids and they were about 19 to 21 years of age, kids in their prime.
“They had just graduated from college and came home to have fun and then boom; here today and gone tomorrow. It’s life.”
McGarrett Russell, a native of Abaco, said he and his son went out to sea with other members of the search and rescue team.
He said they stumbled across an area that “looked suspicious in the water”.
“[My son] put on his dive gears and he got into the water to identify what the object was,” Russell said.
“He went down there and when he [came] up, he told us what he saw and it was sad. He said he saw persons onboard. They all had on their seat belt, apparently intact.”
He added, “My son said he had to take the pilot’s hand away from the controllers. It was very hard because it was stiff [but] he said everybody was intact as if no one was even trying to loosen their seat belt and the doors [were] off.”
Police said four women and three men were on the helicopter.
Cline, who died one day before his 61st birthday, was reportedly on the craft with his daughter, a mechanic and some of his daughter’s friends.
Penny Reckhemmer, a spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Nassau, said the embassy is providing appropriate consular services to the families of the victims.
“We offer our deepest condolences to the victims’ loved ones at this difficult time,” she said.
“The embassy is working closely with the U.S. and local authorities who are investigating the crash. At this time, the Bahamian government is leading the investigation with participation of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.”
According to the U.S. Department of State, 31 Americans have died in air accidents in The Bahamas between January 2003 and December 2018.
Education: Goldsmith, University of London, MA in Race, Media and Social Justice