MARION COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) – Communities are rallying around family and friends of the two law enforcement officers who were killed in a helicopter crash Tuesday in Marion County.
Tennessee Highway Patrol has released the identities of those who were killed in the crash. THP aviation pilot Lee Russell and Marion County Sheriff’s detective Matt Blansett tragically lost their lives.
THP said the two were conducting a mission in the Chattanooga area when the helicopter crashed. Friday, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation confirmed the two were returning from pursuing a lead in a Marion County missing person case, after working on marijuana eradication efforts earlier Tuesday.
Law enforcement agencies have escorted both Blansett and Russell from the Nashville Medical Examiner’s Office back to their home towns. Blansett was escorted via ground transport. Russell was escorted via THP helicopter.
The FAA alongside the NTSB are investigating the crash that happened around 4:00 p.m. EST. A Bell 206 helicopter hit a high tension powerline and crashed into a wooded area on Aetna Mountain near Whiteside.
THP Captain Travis Plotzer said Tuesday night, “Today is a very tragic day for law enforcement, we appreciate all your support and your patience going forward again the investigation is still going on, and still in it’s infant stages. “
THP sent this statement on Twitter Wednesday afternoon that said: Our hearts are filled with sadness as we navigate these difficult times. Please pray for the families, friends, and the men and women of the THP and the Marion County Sheriff’s Dept. These men are heroes, and we will never forget them.
As a helicopter pilot for THP, News 2 has covered some of the searches Russell was involved with including the manhunt for murderer, Kirby Wallace, in Stewart County, and the search for missing “Baby” Joe Clyde Daniels in Dickson County. Russell leaves behind a wife and two children.
Deputy Blansett was also a county commissioner. As a Jasper resident he served the District 2 area of Marion County.
According to the FAA website, the 2007 model chopper was registered with the Tennessee Department of Safety. The aircraft was flying to an undisclosed location.
The cause of the crash is still under investigation. An update will come from the NTSB.
The condolences are pouring in from other law enforcement agencies and others.
“There are no words to describe the heartache and sadness our department is experiencing right now,” said Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Jeff Long. “Sergeant Russell was an outstanding pilot but an even better person. We mourn with the Marion County Sheriff’s Department in the loss of Detective Matt Blansett. Both men were passionate about their jobs. This is a tremendous loss for the Tennessee law enforcement community. We ask for prayers of comfort for the families, our department, and the Marion County Sheriff’s Department during this dark and difficult time.”
“Our hearts are filled with sadness,” said THP Colonel Matt Perry. “As we navigate these difficult times, we ask that you please pray for their families, friends, and the men and women of the Tennessee Highway Patrol and the Marion County Sheriff’s Department. These men are heroes, and we will never forget them.”
Scott County Sheriff’s Office released this statement: Our deepest condolences for our Tennessee Highway Patrol family and that of Sergeant Lee Russell, along with his passenger, a Marion County Sheriff’s Detective Matt Blansett, were both killed this afternoon in a terrible helicopter crash while serving the citizens of the State of Tennessee. God bless these dedicated law enforcement officers and their families during this unimaginable time. #GodSpeed
Grundy County Sheriff’s Office released this statement: Pray for the families of Lee Russell (THP) and Matt Blansett (Marion County S.O.).
Former Henry County Sheriff Monte Belew said: We have lost a man that would do anything for anyone. He’s saved countless lives and caught a bunch of the bad guys. His dad Lt. Steve Russell THP who I worked with @ THP came to me and said I want my son to start his law enforcement career at the same place I started mine at HCSO. We hired Lee immediately and he was always so impressive in his attitude, uniform , humility, everything he did as a person or a deputy was impressive. He became a good friend to me and my family. We duck hunted together and had soo many good times. I can’t express to you how good this man was. Pray for his family & I Love ya brother till we meet again RIP Lee.
Dade County Sheriff’s Office said: Our hearts are breaking over the loss of Sergeant Lee Russell (THP) and Detective Matt Blansett (Marion County SO).Our Narcotics and Criminal Investigators worked with Detective Blansett often. He was always there to help, and his loss is like losing one of our own. Matt was a staple in Marion County, and the loss of such an officer will be felt in his community for years to come. Matt gave his life doing what he loved, and he truly believed that doing what he loved, was making a difference in Marion. Losing a friend is never easy, but it’s especially hard when you lose one like him. The Deputies of Marion County Sheriff Dept, the community of Marion, Matt’s family and friends, and especially his wife and 2 little boys, will remain in our hearts and minds .The memory of Detective Matt Blansett will remain with us forever here at Dade County Sheriff’s Office!!
Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office released this statement: Our hearts are with the Tennessee Highway Patrol and the Marion County Sheriff’s Office as they deal with a tragic loss. In the coming days, we ask that you join us in keeping the family members, friends, and co-workers of THP Sgt. Lee Russell and MCSO Detective Matt Blansett in your thoughts and prayers.
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This is a developing story. WKRN News 2 will continue to update this article as new information becomes available.