Illinois State coach among 7 dead in plane crash on way home from Final 4

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BLOOMINGTON, Illinois — Seven people — including Illinois State University associate men’s basketball coach Torrey Ward and deputy athletic director Aaron Leetch — died when their small plane crashed while heading back from the NCAA tournament final.

The aircraft went down overnight Monday about 2 miles east of the Central Illinois Regional Airport in Bloomington, McLean County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Bill Tate said. People reported that the plane hit heavy fog in central Illinois.

It went down about 5 miles from the campus of Illinois State, where Ward and Leetch both worked. It was not immediately known who else was on the aircraft.

Ward’s alma mater, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said on its website that he and the others died early Tuesday while flying back from the NCAA Final Four championship game in Indianapolis.

The last post from a Twitter account that purportedly belongs to Ward features pictures from Lucas Oil Stadium, where Duke beat Wisconsin in the title game. There’s also a picture of a small plane with the words, “My ride to the game wasn’t bad #indy2015f4.”

In a statement, Illinois State University President Larry Dietz remembered Ward and Leetch as “well-respected and much-loved colleagues in our athletics department” in the crash near Bloomington.

“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.”

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