MARION COUNTY, Tenn. — Two Tennessee law enforcement officers died Tuesday when their helicopter hit power lines and crashed in a wooded area in a community west of Chattanooga. The lines fell across an interstate and lanes of the highway were shut down as first responders looked for the crash site, officials said.
A Tennessee Highway Patrol trooper and a Marion County deputy sheriff were killed in the crash Tuesday afternoon in Marion County, THP Captain Travis Plotzer said. Marion County officials on Wednesday identified the pilot as state trooper Lee Russell and the passenger as Marion County detective Matt Blansett.
"With sad hearts, we join the community in mourning with the Tennessee Highway Patrol and the Marion County Sheriff's Department. Our prayers and support are with both agencies -- and all who knew and loved the two law enforcement officers -- during this difficult time," the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said.
The National Transportation Safety Board is leading an investigation into the crash, in conjunction with the Federal Aviation Administration. Authorities said that the helicopter was "conducting an aerial mission" in the Chattanooga area when it crashed.
The helicopter hit power lines on Aetna Mountain near Whiteside, causing the lines to fall across Interstate 24, officials said.
Multiple law enforcement agencies have sent their condolences to both THP and the Marion County Sheriff's Office.
"This morning, our thoughts are with the family, friends and colleagues of the Tennessee Highway Patrol Trooper and Marion County Sheriff's Office Deputy who died in yesterday's tragic helicopter crash in Marion County. May their service to their communities never be forgotten," the Knoxville Police Department posted on Twitter.
"We have learned that a member of THP and a member of Marion County Sheriff’s Office lost their lives today while serving the people of Tennessee. Please pray for their family, friends, and co-workers as they navigate these difficult times," the Anderson County Sheriff's Office posted on Facebook.
The funeral for Russell will take place at 3 p.m. on August 28 at the Long Heights Baptist Church in the city of McKenzie.
Blansett's family announced they will hold a celebration of life for him at 6 p.m EDT on Saturday, August 27 at the South Pittsburg High School Gymnasium. In lieu of flowers, the family asked for donations to the Marion County Sheriff's Department Christmas for Kids.