Illinois Plane Crash Victims Had Just Left NCAA Tourney: Reports

Passengers were reportedly returning from the NCAA game in Indianapolis

Two of seven people killed Tuesday in a small plane crash near Indiana were Illinois State University basketball officials returning from the NCAA Tournament, school officials said in a statement Tuesday.

A Cessna 414 took off from Indianapolis Tuesday and crashed near the Central Illinois Regional Airport, according to McLean County Sheriff Jon Sandage. 

Officials from the McLean County Coroner's Office were called to the scene and all seven people who were on the plane, which was registered to Make It Happen Aviation in Towanda, Illinois, were pronounced dead, Sandage said. 

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The father-in-law of one of those on board told the Chicago Tribune that the people on the plane were returning from the NCAA basketball championship in Indianapolis.

Illinois State University President Larry Dietz said in a message to students and staff at the school that two members of the Athletics department staff were killed in the crash, including Deputy Director of Athletics for external operations Aaron Leetch and Associate Head Coach of the Redbirds men's basketball team Torrey Ward.

"Both men were well-respected and much-loved colleagues in our Athletics department," Dietz said in a statement. "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."

Leetch is survived by his wife and two daughters and Ward is survived by his two children, Dietz said. 

"Words cannot fully express the grief that is felt in the wake of such a tragedy" Dietz said. "We move between shock and profound sadness."

Family and friends also say the plane's owner, Scott Bittner, who also owns Bittner's Meat Co - Eureka Locker, and Terry Stralow, from the popular bar Pub II in Bloomington, were among the victims.

Authorities said names of the victims were being withheld pending family notification. 

A tweet from an unverified Twitter account claiming to be Ward showed photos of the plane and the Lucas Oil Stadium just hours before the crash.

Visibility was hampered by dense fog in the area at the time of the crash, a National Weather Service official said, but officials could not say if it played a role in the crash. 

Sandage said the plane had radar and radio contact with Peoria International Airport and the Bloomington-Normal Airport Authority shortly before the crash. 

"They had had radar and I believe radio contact with Peoria Airport," Sandage said. "That contact was lost."

Federal investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board were made aware of the crash.

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