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Crash that killed four on way to Wheaton College puzzles family

Ramie Harris

Ramie Harris

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Updated: December 29, 2011 8:11AM

Ray Harris was an experienced pilot. He’d flown small planes around the country, and flying his daughter back to college was routine.

So family and friends were left wondering what went wrong, after Harris, his two daughters and a friend were killed in a plane crash Saturday near Crystal Lake.

Killed in the crash of the single engine plane were Harris, 46, his daughters Ramie, a 21-year-old student at Wheaton College, and Shey, 20. Also on the plane was Shey’s boyfriend, Chris Backus, 22, of Eau Claire, Wis.

The news has devastated their tight-knit hometown, Marion, Ind., which is about 80 miles northeast of Indianapolis. Harris owned a Chrysler dealership and was involved in his church and community.

“What makes this tragic is that they are just such a great family and did so much for the community,” said family friend and neighbor Aaron Vermilion. “They were just what you’d expect out of a strong Christian family.”

Backus, a senior at Indiana Wesleyan University who loved hunting, fishing and football, had flown to Illinois last week with Harris to pick up Ramie Harris for the Thanksgiving break.

“He loved the idea of flying there and back so quickly,” said his father, Michael Backus, an Eau Claire County sheriff’s deputy.

The National Transportation Safety Board is heading the investigation into the crash.

The plane hit a tree and landed in a farm field, according to NTSB spokesperson Peter Knudson. Harris was in contact with air traffic controllers in Chicago, Knudson said.

The wreckage of the four-seat, single-engine Cirrus SR20 was removed to a secure location, where it is being documented. The basic “facts and circumstances” of the crash should be known within two weeks, but a complete investigation of this type takes about a year to complete, Knudson said.

In the meantime, Vermilion says, the surviving family members — Sherry Harris and son Blake — are having a “very difficult time.”

“They have a huge support system, lots of family and friends are there for them,” Vermilion said. “But there are three people missing who they very much wish were here.”

Chris Backus, who was studying criminal justice, hoped to follow in his father’s footsteps in law enforcement.

“He was a great kid and had a lot of promise,” said his father, sadly. “I just can’t believe he’s gone.”

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