Chopper in fatal Va. police crash had engine problems in the past

These undated photo provided by the Virginia State Police show Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates, left, of Quinton, Va., and Lt. H. Jay Cullen, of Midlothian, Va. The two were killed Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, when the helicopter they were piloting crashed while assisting public safety resources during clashes at a nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. (Virginia State Police via AP)
Authorities embrace while working near the scene of a deadly helicopter crash near Charlottesville, Va., on Saturday Aug. 12, 2017. (Shelby Lum/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)
Authorities work near the scene of a deadly helicopter crash near Charlottesville, Va., on Saturday Aug. 12, 2017. (Shelby Lum/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)

WASHINGTON — The police helicopter involved in a fatal crash near the chaotic events of Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend had previous mechanical problems that led to an extremely hard landing seven years ago, according to records from the National Transportation Safety Board.

The chopper, manufactured in 2000, was “substantially damaged during an emergency landing following an engine failure” in May of 2010 in Abingdon, Virginia, the NTSB said.

There were two troopers on board and neither was injured.

According to the NTSB, the troopers were on a training mission when they had to land so abruptly that “the helicopter bounced one time” before coming to rest in a field.

Eventually, the NTSB said the cause of the engine failure was “the improper repair of an engine component by a repair facility.”

On Saturday, two troopers on board the helicopter died when they crashed seven miles southwest of the Charlottesville airport.

There was no distress call as the chopper descended into trees and caught fire, according to the NTSB. The last radar contact shows it was flying at just 34 mph at an altitude of 2,300 feet.

Investigators said the helicopter was assisting law enforcement officers as they monitored clashes between white nationalists and counter-protesters in Charlottesville. It had been hovering over downtown Charlottesville for less than 40 minutes before leaving at 4:42 p.m. to provide support for a motorcade carrying Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

The troopers killed, Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates, were the 64th and 65th Virginia State Police members to die in the line of duty since 1932.

“The NTSB and the Virginia State Police are interviewing witnesses who reported seeing the helicopter in flight shortly before the crash,” the NTSB said in a statement.

A preliminary crash report from the NTSB is expected to be released in a few weeks, but the entire investigation could take as long as 18 months.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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