UPDATE: VSP helicopter traveling to support Virginia Governor's motorcade just before crash

Published: Aug. 13, 2017 at 3:18 PM EDT
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The National Transportation Safety Board said in a statement on Monday that the purpose of the flight of the chopper was to provide a continuous video feed of activities on the ground. This was accomplished with multiple helicopters on Saturday, the day of the rally in Charlottesville.

The helicopter in the accident was a Bell 407 that was manufactured in 2000.

Officials say it departed Charlottesville airport around 3:54 p.m. and was over the downtown area by 4:04 p.m. and was engaged in mission-related activities there until 4:42 p.m. They then departed the area to provide support for a motorcade carrying Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe.

According to the last observed radar coverage, it shows 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 at 4:44 p.m. and it was confirmed that the crash site was seven miles southwest of the Charlottesville airport.

The helicopter's vertical flight path was about 45 degrees when it descended into the woods. The main wreckage landed about 100 yards form where the aft portion of the tail boom became lodged in a tree. There then proceeded to be a post-crash fire.

There was no distress call form the accident helicopter.

The NTSB and the Virginia State Police are interviewing witnesses who reported seeing the helicopter in flight shortly before the crash.

The helicopter was carrying no flight data recorder or a cockpit voice recorder, nor was it required to be.

Investigators are working with local authorities today to recover the helicopter wreckage to secure location. Additional examination will then be conducted on the helicopter.

The NTSB has been working closely with the VSP. The entire investigation is expected to last 12 to 18 months.


Virginia State Police and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are investigating the cause of the fatal helicopter crash in Albemarle County that claimed the lives of two state police pilots.

At 4:51 p.m., Saturday (Aug. 12), a Virginia State Police Bell 407 helicopter crashed into a wooded area near a residence on Old Farm Road in Albemarle County.

The helicopter was assisting public safety resources with the ongoing situation in Charlottesville.

The pilot, Lieutenant H. Jay Cullen, 48, of Midlothian, Va., and Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates of Quinton, Va., died at the scene.

Lt. Cullen was the Aviation Unit Commander, a position he was promoted to in February of this year. He first joined the Aviation Unit in 1999.

Trooper-Pilot Bates had just transferred to the Aviation Unit in July, from the State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

Virginia State Police stated, "formally established Jan. 1, 1984, the Virginia State Police Aviation Unit’s primary mission is to provide aircraft for search, rescue, law enforcement and medical evacuation missions through its three Aviation Bases located in Chesterfield County, Lynchburg and Abingdon. The unit is staffed by Trooper-Pilots, all of whom are sworn members of the Department, are qualified “Police Pilots,” and have private pilots’ licenses. The Trooper-Pilots are trained in-house on VSP aircraft, which include four Bell 407 helicopters, two American Eurocopter EC145 helicopters, and three Cessna fixed-wing aircraft. The unit also employs three full-time mechanics for its fleet and exceeds minimum FAA maintenance requirements. In 2015, the Aviation Unit totaled 2,784 flight hours and assisted with 26 criminal arrests, 36 missing persons located and three escapee apprehensions. The unit fielded 3,008 flight requests in 2015."