Okla. St. women’s coaches die in Ark. plane crash
STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) — The Oklahoma State University women’s basketball coach and his assistant were killed when the single-engine plane transporting them on a recruiting trip crashed in steep terrain in Arkansas, the university said Friday.
Kurt Budke and Miranda Serna died in the accident Thursday afternoon in the Winona Wildlife Management Area near Perryville, about 45 miles west of Little Rock.
The pilot, 82-year-old former Oklahoma state Sen. Olin Branstetter, and his 79-year-old wife, Paula, also died when the plane spiraled out of control and nosedived into the forest.
There were no survivors.
“This is our worst nightmare. The entire OSU family is very close, very close indeed,” OSU President Burns Hargis said at a news conference. “To lose anyone, especially these two individuals who are incredible life forces in our family, it is worse beyond words.”
The crash is the second major tragedy for the sports program in about a decade. In January 2001, 10 men affiliated with the university’s men’s basketball team died in a Colorado plane crash.
“When something like this happens and, God forbid it happened again, we have to pull together as a family. We’ve got to try to do that,” Hargis said, as he broke down in tears.
After the 2001 crash, the university required that planes used by the school’s sports team undergo safety checks before travel. Hargis said coaches were not bound by the same rules and that the school left such decisions to their discretion.
Hargis called Budke “an exemplary leader and man of character,” and credited him with elevating the team in a tough program. Serna, he said, was “an up-and-coming coach and an outstanding role model” for the players. Former Assistant Coach Jim Littell will serve as interim head coach.
Perry County Sheriff Scott Montgomery said hunters called emergency officials about 4 p.m. Thursday after they heard the plane apparently in trouble, then saw it nosedive into a heavily wooded area.
“The plane was spitting and sputtering and then it spiraled and went nose first into the ground,” Montgomery said.
“It went straight into the side of the hill,” he said.
The National Transportation Safety Board said it was sending investigators, and that it could take nine months to determine the cause of the crash.