Helicopter that crashed near Charlottesville was damaged during emergency landing in 2010

Trooper Jay Cullen (left) Trooper Berke M. M. Bates (right) (Photos courtesy of the Virginia State Police Facebook page)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Virginia State Police helicopter that crashed outside Charlottesville on Saturday, killing two Virginia State Police pilots, was also “substantially damaged” during an emergency landing in 2010, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report.

The report finds that Bell 407 helicopter, N31VA, made the emergency landing on May 11, 2010 near Virginia Highlands Airport (VJI) in Abingdon, Virginia following an engine failure and autorotation. The certificated flight instructor and the commercial pilot, both Virginia State Police officers, were not injured in the incident. The reason for the flight was to provide training for the pilot.

The report says the likely cause of the emergency landing was due to, “improper repair of an engine component by a repair facility, which resulted in a complete loss of power.”

The report reads:

The pilot conducted one takeoff and landing at VJI, and then proceeded to the northwest to practice confined area operations at a field about 3 miles from VJI. When the flight was enroute to the practice field, the crew heard a noise that they described as a “very low growl” coming from the engine compartment. As they approached the field at an altitude of about 250 feet above ground level (agl) and a speed of 80 knots, they heard a “very loud growl,” and the engine “surged” twice. The “FADEC DEGRADE” caution light illuminated, and an aural “ENGINE OUT” alert sounded. The CFI informed the pilot that he was taking control of the helicopter, and then initiated a 180 degree right turn, and an autorotation to the field. At about 50 feet agl, the CFI flared the helicopter, and then landed it. The helicopter bounced one time and came to rest on a “slight slope” in the field, with the right skid on the uphill side. The crew shut down the helicopter and exited normally. The pilot reported that the flight duration was seven minutes.”


It wasn’t immediately clear if the 2010 faulty repairs and emergency landing will also be a part of the investigation into Saturday’s fatal crash. A preliminary report of the investigation into Saturday’s crash will be available on the NTSB website within two to three weeks and the entire investigation is expected to last 12 to 18 months, according to NTSB.

Lt. 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.

Lt. Cullen graduated from the Virginia State Police Academy in May 1994 as a member of the 90th Basic Session. He first joined the Virginia State Police Aviation Unit in 1999. Lieutenant Cullen is survived by his wife and two sons.

Trooper-Pilot Burkes would have turned 41 years old Sunday, Aug. 13. He graduated from the Virginia State Police Academy in August 2004 as a member of the 107th Basic Session.

He had just transferred to the Aviation Unit as a Trooper-Pilot in July.