Two Illinois State University athletic administrators were among seven men killed in a Tuesday morning plane crash.
Associate Men’s Basketball Head Coach Torrey Ward and Athletic Department Deputy Director for External Relations Aaron Leetch were flying back from the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship Game in Indianapolis with some friends.
Authorities said the plane left the Indianapolis International Airport around 11:15 p.m. Monday night, intended for the Central Illinois Regional Airport in Bloomington. According to weather reports, there was heavy fog that night.
Peoria’s air traffic control lost contact with the plane around 12:15 a.m. Tuesday, according to the Chicago Tribune, and a search was launched shortly after.
Around 3:15 a.m. Tuesday, the plane wreckage was found less than three miles from the Bloomington airport. There were no survivors.
The ISU community held a memorial service for the seven men on Wednesday evening.
“These guys are just father figures to us,” men’s basketball senior forward John Jones said to ABC 7 News. “Coach Ward, me and him had a personal relationship not only on the court, but [also] off the court.”
The official investigation concerning the crash is approximated to take up to 18 months, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The investigation will be focused on why the aircraft made a turn and missed the approach after it had been cleared for landing, according to NTSB Investigator Todd Fox.
ISU President Larry Dietz said Ward and Leetch will be missed dearly.
“Words cannot fully express the grief that is felt in the wake of such a tragedy,” ISU President Larry Dietz said. “We move between shock and profound sadness. At times like these we may even question our deeply held beliefs and wonder what the future will hold. It is important to remember that we are never alone in our grief.”
Bradley University President Joanne Glasser offered condolences to the ISU community in a statement.
“The entire Bradley University [community] sends its heartfelt sympathy and prayers on the loss of the beloved members of the Illinois State community,” Glasser said. “The tragedy is incomprehensible and no doubt will leave a void on ISU’s campus and community. We send strength and courage as they move forward in the healing process.”