Illinois State associate head coach Torrey Ward and deputy director of athletics for external operations Aaron Leetch were among the seven people killed after the small plane they were in crashed near the Bloomington, Ill. airport, the school announced on Tuesday. The plane was returning from the NCAA basketball national championship game in Indianapolis.
The Chicago Tribune first reported the crash.
According to relatives of the deceased, a Cessna plane left the Indianapolis airport around 11 p.m. local time, shortly after Duke defeated Wisconsin, 68-63, in the national title game on Monday night.
The plane hit heavy fog when it reached central Illinois, said Scott Barrows, who was the father-in-law of the owner of the plane, Scott Bittner. Bittner was among the crash's victims.
"My daughter's husband and three other men and the pilot went to the NCAA game last night and they were flying back and I guess the weather was bad in central Illinois. It was foggy," Barrows told the Tribune.
"They were supposed to land around midnight. My daughter was called at 4 a.m. There was no contact," he said, according to the Tribune. "It has been confirmed they are dead."
Barrows said his son-in-law owned the plane but had a regular pilot. "They had a pilot, he was very experienced," he said.
Ward tweeted while at the national championship game, including a photo of the plane he had taken to get there.
Illinois State president Larry H. Dietz wrote a message to the campus community in announcing that Ward and Leetch were among those killed. From the message:
Both men were well-respected and much-loved colleagues in our athletics department. I join with the Redbird Athletics family and the entire campus in mourning the loss of these two men and the others aboard. Our thoughts and prayers are with their families.
Ward was previously an assistant coach at Ole Miss and had been at Illinois State since 2012. He played for UAB from 1997 to 2000. Ward and Leetch each had two children.
- Scooby Axson