|Women’s basketball coach Kurt Budke and assistant coach Miranda Serna were on a recruiting trip when their plane slammed into an Arkansas hillside. (Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press)|
Oklahoma State coaches are killed in plane crash
STILLWATER, Okla. - Oklahoma State University women’s basketball coach Kurt Budke and his assistant were killed Thursday afternoon when the single-engine plane transporting them on a recruiting trip crashed in steep terrain in Arkansas.
Budke and Miranda Serna died in the accident in the Winona Wildlife Management Area near Perryville, about 45 miles west of Little Rock.
The pilot, 82-year-old former Oklahoma state Senator Olin Branstetter, and his 79-year-old wife, Paula, also died when the plane sputtered, spiraled out of control, and nosedived into the forest.
There were no survivors.
“This is our worst nightmare,’’ OSU president Burns Hargis said at a news conference. “The entire OSU family is very close, very close indeed. 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 teams 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. FAA records showed that the plane was built in 1964 and registered to Branstetter.
The university hired Budke, a native of Salina, Kan., from Louisiana Tech seven years ago and the coach compiled a 112-83 record at the school with three trips to the NCAA Tournament. This year’s team was 1-0 after defeating Rice on Sunday.
Budke coached Serna and Trinity Valley (Texas) to a junior college national title in 1996. Serna went on to play for Houston before returning to the community college to become an assistant under Budke. He also had Serna on his staff at Louisiana Tech.