The loss of seven people in a small plane crash leaves a "large void in our community and our Red Bird family," Illinois State University Athletics Director Larry Lyons said Wednesday.
"Bloomington-Normal is a small town, and in many respects everybody is touched by this tragedy, and they will all be missed," he said of the victims, one day after their plane went down while returning from the NCAA National Championship game in Indianapolis.
Two staff members of the school's athletics department were killed in the Tuesday morning crash, including Deputy Director of Athletics for external operations Aaron Leetch and Associate Head Coach of the Redbirds men's basketball team Torrey Ward.
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Also killed when the Cessna 414 when down on an approach to the Central Illinois Regional Airport near Bloomington were 42-year-old Scott Bittner, who owns Bittner's Meat Co - Eureka Locker, 64-year-old Terry Stralow, co-owner of the popular bar Pub II in Normal, 45-year-old Woodrow Jason Jones of Bloomington, 40-year-old Andrew Butler of Normal, and 51-year-old Thomas Hileman, who was the pilot of the plane.
Lyons was joined at Wednesday's emotional press conference by Redbirds Head Coach Dan Muller and forward John Jones.
"These guys are just father figures to us," said Jones. "Coach Ward, me and him had a personal relationship, not only on the court but off the court. "He was such a good man. He went too early but you can't blame God why."
Illinois State University officials scheduled a memorial service for 6 p.m. Wednesday at Redbird Arena.
Todd Fox, an air safety official with the National Transportation Safety Board Chicago office, said an investigation into the weather, the air traffic control communications, the aircraft and other variables that may have contributed to the crash would be conducted. A preliminary report is expected next week.