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NTSB Releases Latest Details on State Police Helicopter Crash

Posted: Updated: Aug 14, 2017 03:55 PM
scene near Old Farm Road where state police helicopter crashed, killing two people scene near Old Farm Road where state police helicopter crashed, killing two people
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) -

The National Transportation Safety Board is releasing new details of the helicopter crash that killed two Virginia State Police officers Saturday.

It says the chopper's purpose was to provide a continuous video feed of what was happening on the ground during the chaotic events stemming from the 'Unite the Right' rally and its aftermath. The helicopter left Charlottesville airport at 3:54 p.m. and was over downtown until 4:42 p.m. It then went to provide support for a motorcade caring Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

The first 911 call for the crash came at 4:44 p.m. It crashed near Old Farm Road in Albemarle County, which is seven miles from the Charlottesville airport.

A fire sparked after the crash. There was no distress call from the accident helicopter. Officials with NTSB and VSP are interviewing witnesses who saw the chopper in flight shortly before it crashed.

Investigators are working with local authorities to recover the helicopter wreckage and look further into the incident. NTSB says a preliminary report will be available within two to three weeks. The entire investigation is expected to last at least a year.

Release from National Transportation Safety Board:

The purpose of the flight was to provide a continuous video feed of activities on the ground, which was accomplished with multiple helicopters.

The accident helicopter (N31A), was a Bell 407, manufactured in 2000. It departed Charlottesville airport at 3:54 pm ET and was over the downtown area at 4:04 pm and engaged in mission-related activities there until 4:42, at which time it departed the area to provide support for a motorcade
carrying Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe.

The last observed radar coverage indicates that the accident helicopter was traveling north/northeast at about 30 knots (34 mph) at an altitude of 2,300 feet. The first 911 call reporting the crash was received at 4:44 pm. The crash site is about 7 miles southwest of the Charlottesville airport.

The helicopter’s vertical flight path was about 45 degrees when it descended into trees. The main wreckage came to rest about 100 yards from where the aft portion of the tail boom became lodged in a tree.

There was a post-crash fire. The was no distress call from the accident helicopter. The NTSB and the Virginia State Police are interviewing witnesses who reported seeing the helicopter in flight shortly before the crash.

Investigators are working with local authorities today to recover the helicopter wreckage to a secure location where additional examination and documentation can be conducted.

The NTSB has been working closely with the Virginia State Police and appreciates it efforts to support the NTSB investigation.

A preliminary report detailing the facts and circumstances of the crash that have been developed in this early stage of the investigation will be available on the NTSB website within 2-3 weeks.

The entire investigation is expected to last 12-18 months. All inquiries related to this accident investigation should be directed to NTSB Media Relations.

 Release from Virginia State Police:

 The Virginia State Police is mourning the loss of its 64th and 65th members to die in the line of duty since 1932. Lieutenant H. Jay Cullen, 48, and Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates, 40, died last Saturday (Aug. 12, 2017) when the helicopter they were piloting crashed in Albemarle County. Funeral arrangements for both are still pending at this time.

Lieutenant Cullen was born in Winchester County, N.Y., and graduated from Germantown High School in Memphis, Tenn., in 1987. Prior to joining the Virginia State Police in 1993, he worked as a flight instructor in Front Royal, Va. and Winchester, Va. He held a bachelor’s degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

He graduated from the Virginia State Police Training Academy as a member of the 90th Basic Session on May 13, 1994. His first patrol assignment upon graduation was in Virginia State Police Fairfax Division’s Area 9 Office in Fairfax. In 1999, he joined the Aviation Unit as a Trooper-Pilot at the Virginia State Police Aviation Base in Manassas and has been assigned to Aviation Unit ever since.

The following year he was transferred to the Lynchburg Aviation Base, where in 2003 he achieved the rank of Senior Trooper. He was promoted to the rank of Sergeant in 2005 and assumed his new role at the Virginia State Police Aviation Base in Chesterfield County.

In 2007, he was named acting First Sergeant at the Chesterfield base. He was promoted to the rank of First Sergeant in 2012 and then became acting Lieutenant at the base that December.

He is a 2014 graduate of the National Criminal Justice Command College at the University of Virginia. In February 2017, he attained the rank of Lieutenant and became commander of the Aviation Unit. 

Lt. Cullen is survived by his wife and two sons, ages 17 and 15.

Trooper-Pilot Bates was born in Manassas, Va. and graduated from Brentsville District Middle-Senior High School in Nokesville, Va. in 1994. He served as a Trooper with the Florida Highway Patrol from 1998 until he joined the Virginia State Police in 2004. He graduated from the Virginia State Police Academy on August 27, 2004 as a member of the 107th Basic Session.

His first assignment was in Virginia State Police Richmond Division’s Area 8 Office, which encompasses the City of Richmond and Henrico County. Less than a year later he became a member of the office’s Motors Unit, serving as a motorcycle trooper until 2013. He joined the Governor’s protection detail, known as the State Police Executive Protective Unit, in October 2013 and served with the unit for three years before accepting promotion to Special Agent with the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s Richmond Field Office General Investigations Section. In July 2017, he became a Trooper-Pilot with the Virginia State Police Aviation Unit.

Trooper Bates is survived by his wife and twin 12-year-old son and daughter.