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Ex-Whitworth A.D. Leetch among 7 dead in Illinois plane crash

UPDATED: Tue., April 7, 2015

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — A small plane returning from the NCAA basketball tournament in Indianapolis crashed Tuesday near the city of Bloomington in central Illinois, killing all seven people on board. One of the dead is Whitworth University’s former Athletic Director Aaron Leetch, the university said. He held that position from 2011-13, then returned to Illinois State University, according to previous coverage. Rescue personnel found no survivors and a coroner pronounced the seven occupants dead, McLean County Sheriff Jon Sandage confirmed at a midday news conference. The Cessna 414 took off from Indianapolis and crashed just short of the Central Illinois Regional Airport in Bloomington after midnight, the Federal Aviation Administration said. Jo Wagstaff, who worked with Leetch as an associate athletic director at Whitworth, said Leetch brought Division I ideas to the smaller campus in North Spokane. He also spearheaded the fundraising effort that fueled the update to Whitworth’s baseball facilities. “He was just a sharp guy,” Wagstaff said. “It was refreshing to have a person come in and get us up to date with some things. But he really had a passion about Division III. He was just a great leader.” He is survived by his wife, Lindsay, and two young daughters, Avery and Emmersen. “The thing that drew him back to Illinois State was getting closer to family,” Wagstaff said. “That came first to him.” Whitworth men’s basketball coach Matt Logie wasn’t hired by Leetch (pictured, right), but they started at about the same time. “He was just a great guy. He cared so much about his family and, in part, showed that he cared about you and your family. That was invaluable to me as a coach to have that support.” When Logie heard about the plane crash, he immediately called his college roommate, Mitch Gilfillan, who is the director of basketball operations at Illinois State. “I called to make sure he was OK and to make sure Aaron was OK,” Logie said. Gilfillan “told me Aaron was on the plane. It’s just a devastating loss for their community and their athletic department.” Leetch moved to Spokane from Normal, Ill., in the summer of 2011 after serving six years at Illinois State. Then in June 2013, Leetch returned to his old job to be closer to family. “He was very passionate about what he did and he just lived life in a joyous way. That rubbed off on people he came into contact with and the relationships he built. He was a great friend,” Logie said. “The people he touched here at Whitworth are having a tough day.” Meanwhile, the Chicago Tribune quoted Scott Barrows as saying his daughter’s husband, Scott Bittner, 42, was among several other men on board along with the pilot. “(They) went to the NCAA game last night and they were flying back and I guess the weather was bad in central Illinois. It was foggy,” Barrows told the Tribune. “They were supposed to land around midnight. My daughter was called at 4 a.m. … It has been confirmed they are dead.” The National Transportation Safety Board was investigating, but there was no initial word on the cause of the crash. News photos from near the scene showed dense fog.
Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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