Lee Russell with his helicopter in 2013
photo by McKenzie Banner
A state trooper and a Marion County deputy died in a helicopter crash in Marion County on Tuesday afternoon.
THP Captain Travis Plotzer said, "Today is a very tragic day for law enforcement, we appreciate all your support."
The pilot was Sgt. Lee Russell, a veteran helicopter pilot for the Tennessee Highway Patrol.
Flying with him was Marion County detective Matt Blansett, who also was a member of the Marion County Commission. A Jasper resident, he represented Commission seat C.
The chopper was doing surveillance work seeking to identify trails leading to drug hideouts, stolen vehicles, etc.
The helicopter clipped into a powerline by I-24 not far from the 1-24/I-59 split. Traffic was initially halted in the vicinity of the crash, but the roads were later reopened.
The helicopter continued on after hitting the power lines. Shortly before 7 p.m. the helicopter was located with help from TVA.
The crash site was at a remote area of Aetna Mountain.
The location where the power lines were clipped was on SR-134 at Post Trail.
The Federal Aviation Administration was investigating.
In 2013, the THP announced the assignment of Trooper Russell to West Tennessee. He was a native of McKenzie, Tn. and he graduated from the University of Tennessee Martin. He initially served with the Henry County Sheriff’s Office as a rotorcraft and fixed wing pilot for the 24th Judicial Drug Task before graduating from the THP Trooper Cadet Academy in 2010. Afterward, he was assigned to the Aviation Section and he underwent advanced flight training focusing on airborne law enforcement techniques.
“Our pilot is always on-call, ready to respond anywhere he is needed in west Tennessee. Trooper Russell has excelled in all areas of his advanced training and will no doubt prove to be a great asset to public safety in west Tennessee,” officials of the THP said in 2013.