2 Virginia State Police pilots die in Albemarle helicopter crash

ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) – Virginia State Police are investigating a helicopter crash in Albemarle County in which 2 Virginia State Police pilots died.

The incident happened shortly before 5 p.m. Saturday when the helicopter crashed into a wooded area near a residence on Old Farm Road. The Bell 407 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.

No one on the ground was injured.

Image courtesy of Newsplex

The cause of the crash remains under investigation at this time by state police, the FAA and NTSB. There is no indication of foul play being a factor in the crash.

“Our state police and law enforcement family at-large are mourning this tragic outcome to an already challenging day,” said Colonel W. Steven Flaherty, Virginia State Police Superintendent. “Lieutenant Cullen was a highly-respected professional aviator and Trooper-Pilot Bates was a welcome addition to the Aviation Unit, after a distinguished assignment as a special agent with our Bureau of Criminal Investigation. Their deaths are a tremendous loss to our agency and the Commonwealth.”

Lieutenant 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.

Lieutenant H. Jay Cullen. Courtesy of VSP

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.

Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates. Courtesy of VSP

Gov. Terry McAuliffe released a statement on the death of the two troopers:

We are deeply saddened by the loss of Jay and Berke, both of whom were our close friends and trusted members of our team. Jay has flown us across the Commonwealth for more than three and a half years. Berke was devoted to our entire family as part of our Executive Protective Unit team for the past three years.

This is a devastating loss for their families, the Virginia State Police, and the entire Commonwealth. Our hearts go out to their wives and children, and we stand by to support them during this difficult time. These heroes were a part of our family and we are simply heartbroken.

Virginia State Police said in a statement:

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.

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.

Med-Flight/Medevac – operates from the Chesterfield and Abingdon bases with operation costs shared with our healthcare partners: VCU Medical Center, Chesterfield County Fire and EMS, Wellmont Health Systems, Colonial Heights Fire and Rescue, Henrico County Fire and Rescue, and City of Bristol, Virginia Police. In 2015, a total of 844 patients were flown by Med-Flight helicopters out of the two bases.


The crash happened just a few hours after a car plowed into a crowd of people peacefully protesting against the white nationalist rally. One person was killed and at least two dozen were hurt.

This is a developing story. Stay with 8News online and on air for the latest updates.

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