By Mike Mickel, CEO, Dominion Aviation Services, Inc.
Our airport community lost two of our finest friends and neighbors Saturday, Aug. 12. Lt. H. Jay Cullen, commander of the State Police Aviation Unit, and Trooper-Pilot Berke M. M. Bates died in the crash of the Bell 407 helicopter they were piloting on state business near Charlottesville.
We don’t know what happened to their helicopter. The National Transportation Safety Board’s preliminary report suggests structural failure, but stops short of exploring causes. Until the NTSB reports its findings, it’s pointless to speculate.
I didn’t know Trooper Bates. He was new to the Aviation Unit and had been here only a short time. I’d been acquainted with Jay, and I got to know him much better in the months prior to his death. In fact, I’d flown several times with him. After we added a helicopter to Dominion’s charter fleet, I wanted to become current again in helicopters and Jay was my flight instructor.
When you met him for the first time, Jay would impress you as all business. Tall and lean and ramrod-straight, he was the model of the police professional. He soon warmed up, though, revealing a sense of humor and an engaging personality.
In the air, he remained all business. His cockpit procedures were strictly methodical. Despite his thousands of hours in helicopters, he insisted everything be done by checklist.
He worked me pretty hard in that helicopter. He helped me refresh my basic skills, reinforced some good habits and redoubled my respect for his professional attitude and piloting skill.
Jay was also a public servant in the finest sense. He led his unit by personal example. Of all the missions the Aviation Unit supports, he was proudest of its lifesaving role, with a Medevac helicopter staffed and ready here 24 hours a day. We wrote about Jay and his organization in the May edition of Dominion Flyer.
A lot of people call themselves professionals, but very few know what it takes to be a professional. Jay Cullen was a true professional. He was also a great human being, a fine instructor and an excellent pilot.
Our community and our state are diminished without him. We extend our deepest sympathy to his family, to Trooper Bates’ family and to all their colleagues and friends.