On August 12, 2017, at about 1649 EDT, a Bell 407 helicopter, N31VA, crashed and was destroyed in an accident in Charlottesville, VA. The airline transport-rated pilot and the private pilot observer, both Virginia State Troopers, were fatally injured.

Virginia State Police Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates, left, of Quinton, Va., and Lt. H. Jay Cullen, of Midlothian, Va. (Virginia State Police via AP)

After reviewing the preliminary report released just several weeks later by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSP), experienced Bell 407 helicopter pilots agreed that the NTSB got it so wrong and independently published comments on how wrong the NTSB was. [Read Comments]

“The only reason that a helicopter stops flying from a nice straight-and-level altitude and course is if something goes wrong mechanically,” said Robert Hadow, a 20-year certified flight instructor based out of NJ who has 5,000 hours of fixed-wing pilot experience.

In 2019, Lt. Cullen and Trooper Bates’ widows filed suit against the manufacturer, Bell Helicopter Textron. 

The plaintiffs’ experts, some of the most qualified accident reconstructionists in the world, have since issued scathing reports showing how the NTSB performed a sloppy investigation and ignored obvious and critical evidence. These reports are linked below.

Accident Reconstructionists Reports:

Based on these reports, the NTSB:

  • ignored eyewitness statements,
  • ignored the significance of the severed tail rotor drive shaft,
  • ignored the metallurgical evidence that the pedal limiter was in the engaged position when it should have been disengaged,
  • ignored the fact that the emergency pedal limiter disengagement lever could not be pulled due to left pedal pressure being applied by the pilot,
  • ignored that the pilot was a Certified Flight Instructor who taught vortex ring state, 
  • never did a flight test which would have shown that the Model 407 is almost immune from vortex ring state and recovers in 100 feet of altitude loss, 
  • ignored the fact that the tail rotor, as well as the main rotors, struck the tail boom,
  • ignored that the helicopter was originally certified without a pedal limiter and keeps crashing even with it installed

They also ignored the hundreds of service difficulty reports that showed flaws in the rotor blades and ignored the fact that the rotor blades on the accident helicopter were replaced repeatedly.

The NTSB ignored the fact that Bell Helicopter was responsible for recertifying all Virginia State Police Pilots and did not demonstrate vortex ring state for years before the accident, and then the NTSB never interviewed any of the pilot’s helicopter students to see how frequently he taught and demonstrated vortex ring state. 

It also ignored the fact that on the morning of the day of the crash, Trooper Bates commented on the helicopter’s anomalous behavior, which the pilot thought to be vortex ring state when it was a rotor system out of track.

No flight tests, student witness interviews, no reconstruction that wasn’t by Bell, no realistic metallurgical analysis, and no tests of exemplar parts; in short shoddy, incomplete investigation not in accordance with the NTSB’s procedures.

~ Arthur Alan Wolk 




The National Transportation Safety Board gets to investigate all fatal airplane crashes. So, when a Virginia State Police helicopter went down in Charlottesville while tending to the demonstrations there, it jumped right in to investigate.

Whom did it invite to help? Bell, the maker of the helicopter, the Virginia State Police, Rolls Royce, the engine make and another component manufacturer. No one from the families of the two dead pilots were allowed to participate, and the NTSB and the Virginia State Police retained the wreckage for years not permitting anyone for the families to examine it.

In the NTSB Factual Report, the Board attached a video taken from miles away that shows the crash as a little moving dot. That video is attached.

But in truth there was another video, taken by someone who used her cell phone and was much closer. That video is attached.

Some still photos were taken by another bystander before the crash dynamics fully developed and they too were distant.

Well in my preparation for the trial of this case to start July 17th, I enlarged the video taken by the cell phone and it too is attached. What is plainly visible is that instead of this accident being from a Vortex Ring State, it was nothing of the kind. The helicopter was toppling end over end from a severed tail rotor drive shaft due to its spinning from a tail rotor pedal limiter that malfunctioned.

The enlarged video side by side with a vortex ring state video shows without any doubt that the NTSB aided by all its manufacturer friends got it all wrong.

Instead of gathering and considering all the evidence the NTSB once again helped to hide the real cause of the accident which is why more accidents will be caused for the same reason as this one just like others that have occurred in the past.

Shame on them for not doing their job! Aviation safety depends on it!

Please see the video below.

Arthur Alan Wolk

July 4th, 2023

Contact The Wolk Law Firm
p: (215) 545-4220
c: (610) 733-4220
f: (215) 545-5252

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See The Side by Side Video Below

Witness Video

Vulchard Video