OSU plane crash incites change in athletic travel
BY SARA PLUMMER World Staff Writer
Sunday, January 23, 2011
1/23/11 at 8:40 AM
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In 2001, months after a plane crash killed his 20-year-old son, Nate, and nine other men associated with the Oklahoma State University basketball program, Zane Fleming began working with the university to overhaul its athletic travel policy in the hopes that what happened to his son wouldn't happen again.
"It was very difficult to go to those meetings," Fleming said, but worth it. "It was good for me to be involved with it personally."
Harry Birdwell, then vice president of business and external relations at OSU, headed up a 17-member task force to develop a better travel policy for the university's athletic teams. In addition to university, aviation and travel officials, several crash victims' family members also served on the committee, including Fleming and Mick Weiberg, father of student trainer Jared Weiberg.
"They didn't have much control of the travel at the time of the crash. It was just a small policy," Fleming said. "We put together a pretty extensive policy; the type of vans, who could drive them, the type of aircraft."
The new policy increased travel budgets so safety consultants could be hired, prohibited student athletes from flying on donated aircraft, and gave coaches and assistants more discretion when flying on planes owned by OSU alumni and boosters.
The plane that crashed in Colorado, a Beechcraft King Air 200, was owned by North Bay Charter LLC and was donated by an OSU booster.
Travel arrangements on charter or time-share aircraft are now made through the athletic department, and not informally between coaches and owners of aircraft.
Marty Sargent, associate athletic director at OSU, said the university still follows that policy, which was approved in 2002, and revisits the policy every few years to update it.
The crash not only shocked people throughout the campus at Stillwater, but caused other universities to look at their policies as well, Sargent said.
"It opened up some eyes on how they may have been traveling in the past," Sargent said. "A number of universities changed their policies."
Juanita Sheely, associate director for travel and insurance with the NCAA, said no formal surveys were taken, but she does know most college officials did review travel policies following the plane crash.
"I can tell you that the Oklahoma State accident had a pretty profound impact on the entire membership," Sheely said.
After the crash, the NCAA put together a publication on transportation safety and best practices and sent it to all the member institutions.
Sargent said everyone feels more comfortable with the current travel policy at OSU.
"There's more checks and balances to prevent something from happening," he said. "That's a positive that came out of the tragedy."
Knowing student athletes are safer now when they travel because he and others served on the task force makes Fleming feel good.
"Anytime you get someone with the university overseeing that, no question it's safer," he said, adding that he and Weiberg brought a different perspective to the committee. "It's good for us to know they were going to change. With something tragic, it's good to think something comes from it."
In 2004, five families of those killed settled lawsuits with several companies associated with the Beechcraft King Air 200 that crashed in Colorado, and the estate of Denver Mills, the pilot who also died in the crash.
One defendant, Raytheon Co., the company that manufactured the plane, walked out of mediations at the time, but later settled with the families in 2005.
Four other families had reached settlements earlier.
"Everything is moving more positively for my family. I like to think we've been an example of how to live and move on. We've tried to be," Fleming said.
Sargent, who was working in the athletic department 10 years ago, said those at the university have also tried to move on while still remembering those who were lost.
"You know in the back of your mind that it's a possibility that it could happen," he said. "You hope it doesn't happen to you and in this case it did. I hope some of the things we're doing now will lessen the chances of it happening again."
Original Print Headline: Crash led to changes to travel policy
Sara Plummer 581-8465
Ann and Zane Fleming pose near a kneeling cowboy statue in their home Thursday in Edmond. Their son, Nate, an OSU basketball player, was one of 10 men associated with the OSU team who were killed in a plane crash 10 years ago while returning from a game in Colorado. The statue is a smaller version of the statue on the OSU campus to honor those killed in the crash. BILL WAUGH / For the Tulsa World