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Seven Dead In Small Plane Crash Near Bloomington

Updated 04/07/15 - 10:47 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Seven people were killed when a small plane crashed near downstate Bloomington early Tuesday.

The Federal Aviation Administration confirmed a Cessna 414 flying from Indianapolis to Bloomington went down about two miles away from Central Illinois Regional Airport in Bloomington just after midnight. McLean County Sheriff Jon Sandage confirmed all seven people on board were killed in the crash.

The Federal Aviation Administration confirmed a Cessna 414 that took off from Indianapolis International Airport late Monday night crashed north of Central Illinois Regional Airport in Bloomington just after midnight.

Sandage said the plane was approaching CIRA around 12:15 a.m., when air traffic controllers in Peoria notified the Bloomington-Normal Airport Authority they had lost radar contact.


When the twin-engine plane could not be located on airport property, search crews from local police and fire departments began sweeping the area amid heavy fog.

"At the time of the accident, there were low ceilings, low cloud ceilings as well as fog and maybe some mist and light rain," said NTSB Investigator Todd Fox.

Sandage said a Bloomington police officer found the wreckage at approximately 3:15 a.m.

"McClean County Coroner's office personnel arrived, pronounced all seven occupants of the plane deceased," he said.

The NTSB says it is not known if the plane made a distressed call because it switched to an unmonitored frequency and that a turn was made near the end of its flight that was not in line with a landing.

Illinois State University has confirmed deputy athletic director Aaron Leetch and associate head men's basketball coach Torrey Ward were among the victims.

"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," the university said in a statement on their website. "Words cannot fully express the grief that is felt in the wake of such a tragedy. 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. A great many resources are available to help us cope with their loss in the coming days, weeks and months. Students impacted by this tragedy may contact our Student Counseling Services office at 438-3655."

Aaron Leetch and Torrey Ward
Deputy athletic director Aaron Leetch (left) and associate head men's basketball coach Torrey Ward (right). (Credit: Illinois State University website)

The McLean County Coroner identified the other victims as 51-year-old Thomas Hileman, who was the plane's pilot, Andrew Butler, 40, Woodrow "Jason" Jones, 45, Terry Stralow and Scott Bittner, 42.

Stralow was a partner in the Pub II, a popular bar in Bloomington-Normal and Bittner owned the plane, and a meat-processing company in downstate Eureka. The men reportedly were flying home from the NCAA basketball championship game in Indianapolis.

CBS 2's Brad Edwards reports four of the victims were members of the Eastview Christian Church, which held a vigil Tuesday night.

"We are just devastated that we don't have these seven with us anymore," Pastor Mike Baker.

The NTSB and FAA were investigating the cause of the crash. A preliminary report will come out next week. It could take up to a year for full findings.

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