RICHMOND, Va. (WATE) – Both men killed in the helicopter crash connected to the violent Charlottesville rally have East Tennessee ties.
The pilot, Lt. H. Jay Cullen, 48, is the son of Loudon County commissioner. The passenger, Berke Bates, played hockey at the University of Tennessee with his brother, Craig Bates. Bates’ immediate family lives in Knoxville.
The helicopter crash happened in Albemarle County.
Shortly before 5 p.m., a Virginia State Police 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, Virginia.
Cullen and Bates both died at the scene.
Bates’ family was waiting on Saturday to hear if he was okay after protests erupted in Charlottesville. However, after he and his pilot, Lt. Cullen, took off in a helicopter to help keep everyone safe, their families learned the worst.
“Waking up Saturday morning, I would have never thought that by Saturday evening I would be talking to my parents about what happened,” said Craig Bates.
Craig Bates never thought he would be telling his parents that his brother died in a helicopter crash. He said his family is shocked but flying was something Berke Bates wanted to do his whole life.
Craig Bates said his brother’s first love was family. He leaves behind two children. Craig Bates said his second love was flying. Berke Bates started in Virginia State Police’s Aviation Department just a few weeks ago.
“Our family was just blessed that he had at least a small opportunity to do it. We just wish he had more time to do it,” he said.
Berke Bates served with the department for 13 years. Before that, he and his brother played hockey at UT.
“We might not see each other in person for months but as soon as we are together, it was like we never left each other,” Craig Bates said.
It’s a bond so strong, it’s difficult for Craig Bates to believe that his brother is gone. He said on Sunday he was going to share something with Berke Bates through a text message and then he remembered he couldn’t do that anymore. He said what he can do is honor his memory and legacy.
“So we never forget the sacrifice that he made, the ultimate sacrifice that he made, in trying to help people because that is what Berke was all about,” he said.
Henry Cullen said his son will be greatly missed and that he could not have asked for a better one. Lt. Cullen leaves behind a wife and two children.
No one on the ground was injured.
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.”
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 Bates 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 Bates is survived by his wife, a son and a daughter.