MCMINNVILLE, Tenn. (NewsNation Now) — Three people killed in a small plane crash near a Tennessee airport were Air National Guard members, officials said Wednesday.
The Federal Aviation Administration said the three were aboard a single-engine Piper PA-28 airplane that crashed Tuesday near Warren County Memorial Airport in McMinnville, southeast of Nashville.
Killed in the crash were Lt. Col. Shelli Huether, Capt. Jessica Wright, and Senior Master Sgt. Scott Bumpus, the guard said in a news release.
They were members of the 118th Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Group. Heuther was director of operations for the 118th Intelligence Support Squadron, and Wright was assistant director of operations for the same unit, said Maj. Danielle Parton, a spokeswoman for the 118th Wing. Bumpus was chief of current operations for the 236th Intelligence Squadron.
Each member had been with the 118th Wing for several years, according the to Col. Todd Wiles, commander of the 118th Wing.
“Shelly Huether was just an incredibly friendly, outgoing personality. Same with all three of them. Jessica… was hand selected to go to that unit,” Wiles told NewsNation affiliate WKRN, “And really the loss of those three… it’s going to leave an empty space in a lot of hearts.”
All three leave behind spouses and children — two spouses are in the 118th Wing as well, according to Wiles.
They had a scheduled day off and were planning to have some fun, according to Parton. All three lived in Middle Tennessee.
The plane took off from the airport and crashed in a nearby field, National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Peter Knudson said. A witness told investigators that the plane appeared to be trying to return to the airport when it crashed.
It was not immediately clear who was flying the plane, Parton said.
“Words cannot begin to explain the shock, grief, pain and dismay we feel having lost three remarkable members of our Guard family,” said Wiles. “All three were dedicated to the service of our nation.”
Jerry Wiser was mowing his field when he heard a loud crash behind him.
“My place joins the airport on the backside,” said Wiser. “I probably wasn’t even 50 yards away, albeit moving forward when the plane went down behind me.”
Wiser and another person nearby called authorities and rushed to the smoking wreckage to try to help, he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.