Three members of the Tennessee Air National Guard were killed in a small plane crash on Tuesday in Tennessee, the Air National Guard said.
Lt. Col. Shelli Huether, 45, Capt. Jessica Wright, 37, and Senior Master Sgt. Scott Bumpus, 53, all members of the 118th Intelligence, were killed in the McMinnville crash, the Guard said in a press release.
Huether was director of operations for the 118th Intelligence Support Squadron, Wright was the assistant director of operations, and Bumpus was chief of current operations for the 236th Intelligence Squadron.
“Words cannot begin to explain the shock, grief, pain and dismay we feel having lost three remarkable members of our Guard family,” Col. Todd Wiles, commander of the 118th Wing, said in a statement. “All three were dedicated to the service of our nation. Their families are in our hearts and our prayers.”
The crash occurred under unknown circumstances while the flight was en route around 11:40 a.m. near the Warren County Memorial Airport, the Nashville Tennessean reported.
A witness told NBC affiliate WSMV that the aircraft was trying to return to the airport when it crashed into a field.
A spokeswoman for the 118th Wing told the Associated Press that Huether, Wright and Bumpus, who all lived in Middle Tennessee, had a scheduled day off and were “planning to have some fun.”
Witness Jerry Wiser said he watched the plane go down, and worked with another person to help free the victims.
“I turned the tractor off. As I was walking towards the plane, I called 911. One of the neighbors came down and took my pocket knife and cut the seat belts and was trying to get some of them out,” Wiser told Fox affiliate WZTV. “The plane was smoking at the time, but it never did catch on fire.”
The National Transportation Safety Board said on Twitter it is investigating the crash of the Piper PA-28 airplane, but will not be traveling to the scene of the accident.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee paid tribute to the victims on Twitter.
“We are incredibly saddened by the sudden and tragic loss of three Airmen in yesterday’s accident,” he wrote. “I ask Tennesseans to join Maria and me in praying for Lt. Col. Shelli Huether, Capt. Jessica Wright, Senior Master Sgt. Scott Bumpus, and their loved ones during this difficult time.”
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