Monday, August 14, 2017

Two state police pilots killed in helicopter crash covering Charlottesville protests

Two state police pilots killed in Charlottesville helicopter crash

CHARLOTTESVILLE — A Virginia State Police helicopter helping law enforcement officers monitor the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville crashed in Albemarle County on Saturday, killing the two people on board.
The pilot, Lt. H. Jay Cullen, 48, of Midlothian, and trooper-pilot Berke M.M. Bates of Quinton, flying a Bell 407 helicopter, died at the scene, according to state police.
The cause of the crash, which was in a wooded area near a residence on Old Farm Road, is being investigated by the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board, but there is no indication of foul play, state police said Saturday night.
“Our state police and law enforcement family at large are mourning this tragic outcome to an already challenging day,” said Col. 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.”
Gov. Terry McAuliffe and first lady Dorothy McAuliffe released a statement Saturday night saying, “These heroes were part of our family, and we are simply heartbroken.”
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of Jay and Berke, both of whom were our close friends and trusted members of our team,” the statement said. “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.”
The two victims were the only people on board the helicopter and there were no injuries to anyone on the ground, state police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said.
Police were notified of the crash at 4:54 p.m.
“Albemarle County police and fire responded first,” said Geller, standing a few hundred yards from the crash site. “They located the wreckage of a helicopter in the woods near a residence off Old Farm Road, at the very end of the roadway. It was fully engulfed. And at this time we do have two confirmed fatalities. State law in Virginia says that the Virginia State Police has to investigate all aircraft crashes so that’s why we responded to the scene.”
Geller said the aircraft was not the state police helicopter seen circling above Saturday’s white nationalist rally in downtown Charlottesville, a gathering at which a car was driven into a group of counterprotesters, killing one and injuring 19.
President Donald Trump expressed his sympathies to the state police on Twitter:
“Deepest condolences to the families & fellow officers of the VA State Police who died today. You’re all among the best this nation produces.”

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