Illinois State athletic staffers among 7 dead after plane crashes on way back from NCAA championship

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BLOOMINGTON, Ill. (AP – April 7, 2015) —Illinois State University says its associate head basketball coach and a deputy athletic director are among seven people who died in a plane crash in central Illinois.

Photo courtesy of Chicago Tribune/Bloomington Pantagraph
Photo courtesy of Chicago Tribune/Bloomington Pantagraph

University President Larry Dietz confirmed Tuesday that assistant coach Torrey Ward and Aaron Leetch, the athletic department’s deputy director for external relations, were killed in the early-morning crash.

Dietz made the announcement in an email to students, faculty and staff, saying “words cannot fully express the grief that is felt.”

According to the Chicago Tribune, also among the dead are Terry Stralow, 64, a partner in a popular bar in Bloomington; Scott Bittner, 42, the owner of a meat-processing company; Thomas Hileman, 51, the pilot; Andy Butler, 40, a regional representative for Sprint; and Woodrow “Jason” Jones, 45, a senior vice president/investment officer with Secord-Jones Wealth Management Group.

The group was returning from the NCAA basketball championship and left the Indianapolis airport around 11 p.m. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says the Cessna 414A twin engine crashed just short of the Bloomington airport around 12:15 a.m. The wreckage was found around 3:15 a.m.

The cause of the crash is under investigation.

The Chicago Tribune spoke with Scott Barrows, the father-in-law of Bittner, and he said the plane hit heavy fog over Central Illinois.

Ward, 36, played basketball at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and he earned his degree in 2001.  He was a member of coaching staffs at Jacksonville State and Ole Miss. He was also with Indiana State for three seasons.

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