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Coroner identifies all 7 victims of Illinois plane crash

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. (WISH/AP) – A small plane crashed and killed all seven people on board, just north of the Bloomington, Illinois airport on Tuesday morning.

Rescue personnel found no survivors and a coroner pronounced the seven occupants dead, McLean County Sheriff Jon Sandage confirmed at a midday news conference.

“Their identities were being withheld pending notification of family,” Sandage said.

Scott Barrows told reporters that his daughter’s husband, Scott Bittner, 42, was among several other men on board along with the pilot. The Illinois State University president confirmed two of their employees were also on board. Late Tuesday afternoon the McLean County Coroner release the names of all seven victims.

  • Scott Bittner, 42, a business owner
  • Terry Stralow, 64, a sports bar owner
  • Torrey Ward, 36, Illinois State University Associate Head Basketball Coach
  • Aaron Leetch, 37, the Illinois State University athletic department’s deputy director for external relations
  • Jason Jones, 45, a former basketball and baseball player for Illinois Wesleyan University who worked at Wells Fargo Advisors
  • Thomas Hileman, 51, the pilot
  • Andrew Butler, 40, an employee of Sprint

Bittner lived with his wife and two children in Towanda, a small village just outside Bloomington, according to a co-worker who spoke to The Associated Press.

He owned a meat processing plant in Eureka, Illinois, carrying on the family’s line of work after his dad established another plant in the small city of Chenoa, where Bittner grew up.

“He always told me that he wasn’t my boss. That I didn’t work for him, I worked with him,” said Terry Wertz, who has worked at Bittner’s Meat Co. for 15 years.

Bittner had traveled to Indianapolis for the NCAA tournament using his dad’s plane, which he primarily used for business trips, Wertz said. Barrows, told the Chicago Tribune that Hileman was a regular and experienced pilot of the 10-seater aircraft.

According to a statement released by Illinois State University President Larry Dietz, two members of the their athletic department were on the plane.

“Aaron Leetch and Torrey Ward were among seven people who died when the plane they were travelling in crashed near Bloomington. 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.”

Dietz said Leetch was deputy director of Athletics for external operations. Torrey Ward was associate head coach of the Redbirds men’s basketball team.

“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,” Dietz said.

Lyndsey Jones described her late husband Jason to the Associated Press on Tuesday.

“He loved his children and his family more than anything in the world, wonderful man. That’s really all I can say right now,” she said.

The Cessna 414 left from Indianapolis and was headed for Bloomington, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. 

The National Transportation Safety Board have launched an investigation, but there was no initial word on the cause of the crash. News photos from near the scene showed dense fog.

The airport was open and all systems, including its runway lighting, were functioning, though the tower had closed several hours earlier and handed responsibility to an air traffic control facility in Peoria.

Radar contact was lost moments before the crash and a search was launched when the pilot failed to close out his flight plan. It took about three hours to find the wreckage.

Investigations may take up to a year or more to be completed.

The aircraft was registered to Make it Happen Aviation LLC of Towanda, Illinois.