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 sputtered, spiraled out of control and nosedived into the
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
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
"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.
On Jan. 27, 2001, a Beechcraft King Air 200 carrying players and
others connected to the OSU men's basketball team crashed in a
field 40 miles east of Denver as the Cowboys returned from a game
at Colorado. The crash occurred about 35 minutes after the plane
took off in light snow.
An NTSB report cited a power loss aboard the plane and said the
pilot suffered disorientation while flying the plane manually with
Eddie Sutton, the OSU men's basketball coach at the time of the
2001 crash, said Thursday's crash brought back the emotions he felt
a decade ago.
"Not a day goes by that I don't think about one of those
guys," Sutton said. "It's emotional, believe me. This brings back
a lot of unpleasantness."
The weather near the crash site Thursday was clear with
temperatures in the upper 30s to mid-40s.
The university hired Salina, Kan., native Budke from Louisiana
Tech seven years ago and the coach compiled a 112-83 record at the
school. This year's team was 1-0 after defeating Rice on Sunday.
Budke coached Serna and Trinity Valley 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 coach
under Budke. He also had Serna on his staff at Louisiana Tech and
Oklahoma State. She was the recruiting coordinator for the
On Friday, Oklahoma State said it was canceling its women's
college basketball home games set for Saturday and Sunday. The
school's second-ranked college football team plays Friday night at
The head coach of Baylor, Kim Mulkey, said the deaths would have
a wide impact.
"There's a bigger picture out there and it's not a basketball
game, it puts life in perspective." Mulkey said. "I feel for the
Oklahoma State community. How many more tragedies can they
After the news conference, tearful Oklahoma State staff members
and supporters comforted each other in the hallway of Heritage
Hall. A banner was laid out for students and faculty to sign with
messages for Budke, 50, and Serna, 36.
Former Cowgirl Taylor Hardeman left a message: "I will never
forget how much better you made me as a person, player and alum.
Thanks for the memories. God bless you both. You will be missed."
Outside the gym, a bouquet of orange daisies and two large
orange flowers were left near the statue of a kneeling Cowboy, part
of the memorial to those lost in the 2001 crash. OSU Director of
Communications Gary Shutt said a memorial was being planned for
"I don't know a lot about what happened or about how it
happened, but I know they are gone," Hargis said. "But I know
they're here in our hearts."
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)