HENRICO COUNTY, Va. – An emotional scene played out along I-64 Saturday night as the bodies of two Virginia State Police troopers who died in a helicopter crash in Charlottesville were transported home to Richmond.
Law enforcement, firefighters and other observers gathered on overpasses along the interstate to honor the troopers.
A Henrico Fire crew and two Henrico Police officers, along with a WTVR CBS 6 crew, witnessed the somber moments at the Gaskins Road overpass in Henrico County around 10:15 p.m.
As the processional neared, state troopers temporarily blocked the interstate's on ramps, as is procedure to allow for the keep traffic back from the official escort.
The troopers were killed when their helicopter crashed in a wooded area in Albemarle County near Charlottesville just before 5 p.m.
"The Bell 407 helicopter was assisting public safety resources with the ongoing situation in Charlottesville," Virginia State Police Public Relations Coordinator Susan Rowland said.
Officials said the pilot, 48-year-old Lt. H. Jay Cullen, of Midlothian, and 40-year-old Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates, Quinton, died at the scene.
Virginia State Police Superintendent Col. W. Steven Flaherty said the troopers' deaths are a tremendous loss for the agency and the Commonwealth.
“Our state police and law enforcement family at-large are mourning this tragic outcome to an already challenging day,” Flaherty said. "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.”
Gov. Terry McAuliffe and First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe, who knew both of the victims, said the loss was devastating for the Commonwealth.
“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," the McAuliffes said in a statement. "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.”
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.
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.
Bates is survived by his wife, a son and a daughter.
Sources told WTVR CBS 6 the chopper took off from the Chesterfield County Airport and was filming the protest in Charlottesville.
Officials said no one on the ground was injured.
Officials said there is no indication of foul play and that the cause of the crash remains under investigation by state police, the FAA and NTSB.
Stay with WTVR.com and watch CBS 6 News for updates on this important local story.