A plane returning from the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship crashed near the Bloomington, Illinois airport Monday night, killing seven people, including Illinois State’s associate basketball coach coach Torrey Ward, Illinois State boosters and the plane’s pilot , according to CBS Sports and other media reports.
Aaron Leetch, Illinois State’s deputy director of athletics for external operations also died in the crash.
The plane’s owner, Scott Bittner, an Illinois State graduate and owner of a meat processing company was also identified as one of the victims, the Chicago Tribune reported. The owner of a Bloomington bar, Terry Stralow, also died in the crash, the Tribune reported.
The other victims haven’t been named.
Here’s what you need to know:
1.The Plane Crashed After Hitting Heavy Fog
According to the Chicago Tribune, the plane hit heavy fog over Central Illinois before the crash.
The plane was expected to land at about midnight after leaving Indianapolis. It had left the Indiana airport at about 11 p.m. after leaving the NCAA championship game.
“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,” said Scott Barrows, Bittner’s father-in-law, to the Tribune.
Athletic Director Larry Lyons said on the athletic department’s website:
The Redbird family and the Bloomington-Normal community has suffered a terrible loss today.
Aaron Leetch was a shining star in this business. He had a gift in dealing with people and building relationships. Our external units were making incredible progress under his leadership, and he was on that trip doing what he does best. Torrey Ward was a big part of the success taking place with our men’s basketball program. He had a big personality, was a talented coach and recruiter, and our fans loved him.
Our hearts go out to the families and loved ones of those involved. There is no play in the playbook for times like these. We will miss Aaron and Torrey deeply, and we will support their families in any way that we can. To honor their individual and collective legacies, we will move the Redbirds and our community forward.
2. Ward Played Basketball At UAB & Professionally in China
According to the Illinois State website, Ward played collegiate basketball at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, graduating in 2001. He scored almost 800 career points and was the runner-up for Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year during his senior season.
Ward went on to play professionally in China before becoming a coach. He played for the Shanghai Sharks, where he was a teammate of former NBA star Yao Ming.
3. He Became a Coach at Illinois State in 2012
Ward, the team’s associate head coach, has been at Illinois State since 2012. He previously coached at Ole Miss and Jacksonville State. He worked at Ole Miss for head coach Andy Kennedy for five seasons before moving on to Illinois State.
4. He Has 2 Children
According to the Illinois State website, Ward has two children, Torrey and Tamia.
Ward was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama, where he was one of the top basketball players in the state in high school before going on to his hometown university.
5. The Pilot Was ‘Very Experienced’
Bittner’s family told the Tribune that the pilot was “very experienced.” He was flying a Cessna 414.
The crash is under investigation: