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Seven Friends Killed in Plane Crash Returning Home from NCAA Championship Game


Bloomington, Illinois-- Illinois State University associate head basketball coach Torrey Ward and the school’s deputy athletic director Aaron Leetch were among the seven people who lost their lives early Tuesday morning in a plane crash in Illinois. The Cessna 414 plane reportedly went down at around midnight roughly two miles east of the Central Illinois Regional Airport in Bloomington.

In addition to Ward and Leech, the deceased include 51-year-old pilot Thomas Hileman; 40-year-old Andy Butler, a regional representative at Sprint; 45-year-old Woodrow Jones, an executive at Secord-Jonas Wealth Management Group; 42-year-old Scott Bittner, a Bloomington businessman; and 64-year-old Terry Stralow, the owner of a popular Bloomington pub near the campus of ISU.

The plane, which belonged to Bittner, was scheduled to land at the airport just after midnight with heavy fog reported in the area. When it didn’t show at the scheduled time, local officials sent out a search party. Three hours later, the wreckage was found in a bean field northeast of the airport with all of the victims inside the aircraft still belted to their seats.

An official with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) told the Chicago Tribune that the pilot had been cleared for an instrument landing on Runway 20 at Central Illinois Regional Airport. It is unclear whether Hileman was experiencing any trouble in the moments prior to the plane dropping off the radar. Air traffic controllers said he didn’t cancel the flight plan or alter it mid-flight.

Scott Barrows, Bittner’s father-in-law, said he doesn’t understand what went wrong. He told the Tribune that Hileman was a very experienced pilot. Indeed records indicate that Hileman had logged roughly 12,000 miles prior to the crash and had also just completed a medical check in February.

At this point, investigators won’t speculate on what caused the tragic crash. NTSB officials will be looking into at all aspects of the ill-fated flight, including the condition of the aircraft, Hileman’s communication with air traffic controllers, and the fog reported in the area at the time of the crash.



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