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Helicopter crash in east Tennessee claims life of local trooper, one other

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Members of the law enforcement community mourned the loss of two of their own, including Tennessee Highway Patrolman Sgt. Lee Russell, 35, of McKenzie, after their helicopter crashed last week in east Tennessee.

According to reports, the Bell 206 helicopter that Russell was piloting, struck some power lines around 4 p.m. (CST) Tuesday, August 23, on Aetna Mountain near Whiteside in the Chattanooga area. Marion County Sheriff’s Department Det. Matt Blansett, 40, was the second person involved in the crash. Russell was part of the THP Aviation Division. Both were killed as a result of the crash.

“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,” Long added.

A portion of I-24 was closed as a result of downed power lines. Reports cite the helicopter hit power lines and crashed in a wooded area. The pair was conducting an aerial mission near Chattanooga that day. According to Marion County Det. Gene Hargis, Russell and Blansett had a handful of objectives that day. Their mission began in search of illicit marijuana plants. They were then called to search for a man who had reportedly ran errands in Chattanooga the day before and hadn’t made it home, according to his family members. Russell and Blansett had a cell phone ping at a motel for the missing man, but left the scene after the man’s vehicle was not where his phone pinged. The family reported the missing man had returned home on Wednesday.

Both officers were laid to rest Sunday. The accident is under investigation by the Federal Aviation Division and the National Transportation Safety Board.

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