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Helicopter that crashed, killed 2 Va. troopers was damaged in 2010

The helicopter was heavily damaged in 2010 when it lost engine power and was forced to make a hard landing

By Alanna Durkin Richer
Associated Press

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The Virginia State Police helicopter that crashed, killing two troopers who were monitoring violent clashes between white nationalists and counter protesters in Charlottesville, was heavily damaged in 2010 when it lost engine power and was forced to make a hard landing, a state police spokeswoman confirmed Tuesday.

The aircraft was fully repaired after the accident seven years ago, however, said State Police Spokeswoman Corinne Geller.

The 2010 emergency landing happened during a training flight in southwest Virginia, according to a report from the National Transportation Safety Board. The crew heard a “very loud growl” before the helicopter made the hard landing about seven minutes into the flight, according to the report, which was first publicized by The Richmond Times-Dispatch and later reviewed by The Associated Press. It bounced once before coming to rest, resulting in “substantial damage,” the report said.

Investigators concluded the accident was the result of “improper repair of an engine component by a repair facility, which resulted in a complete loss of engine power,” the report said. Geller confirmed that the helicopter mentioned in the report is the same one that crashed Saturday.

The aircraft was fully repaired by Bell Helicopter, Geller said. A Bell Helicopter spokeswoman said the company was saddened by Saturday’s deadly crash and was cooperating with the NTSB’s investigation.

On Monday, the NTSB said there was no distress call from the helicopter in Charlottesville, which had been providing video to police of activities downtown before it left to lend support to a motorcade for Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. Within two minutes there was a 911 call reporting the crash.

The Bell 407’s vertical flight path was about 45 degrees when it descended into trees before catching on fire, the NTSB said. The tail boom separated from the main wreckage and became lodged in a tree. Lt. H. Jay Cullen, 48, and Berke M.M. Bates, who was one day shy of his 41st birthday, were killed. A preliminary report on the crash is expected to be available in a few weeks.

Matthew Robinson, an aviation safety expert who reviewed the NTSB report on the 2010 accident, said investigators can’t rule anything out, but it’s far too soon to say what may have caused Saturday’s crash.

“The investigator has to be careful in not letting a hypothesis guide the investigation this early in the stage,” said Robinson, a former official aircraft accident investigator for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps who’s now with Robson Forensic. “Everything is game at this point, but it’s so early.”