OSU's Kurt Budke, assistant killed in plane crash
BY Staff Reports
Nov 19, 2011
11/19/11 at 3:59 AM
Four killed in plane crash: Read more articles, see reactions and view a video of the OSU press conference following the deaths of OSU womens basketball coach Kurt Budke, assistant Miranda Serna, former state Senator Olin Branstetter and his wife Paula.
Oklahoma State women’s basketball coach Kurt Budke and an assistant, Miranda Serna, were killed in a small-plane crash Thursday.
During a recruiting trip, their plane went down in central Arkansas.
The pilot and one additional passenger – neither of whom was affiliated with OSU – also were killed, OSU spokesman Gary Shutt said. Former Oklahoma state Sen. Olin Branstetter of Ponca City and his wife, Paula, were aboard. They owned the plane. Olin Branstetter is believed to have been the pilot. The Branstetters were OSU graduates and longtime supporters of the school.
A memorial service has been set for 1 p.m. Monday at Gallagher-Iba Arena to honor the victims. The university announced it will cancel classes at 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. that day.
Perry County Sheriff Scott Montgomery said the plane went straight into a hillside late Thursday afternoon. The crash site was about four miles south of Perryville, Ark., and 45 miles northwest of Little Rock.
The sheriff says a witness heard the small plane's engine sputtering, then saw it go into a spiral and crash nose first. The plane clipped some treetops before impact.
The plane went down about 4:30 p.m. Thursday under unknown circumstances in a wooded area about four miles south of Perryville, Ark., said Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Lynn Lunsford said in an e-mailed response to the Tulsa World.
A National Transportation Safety Board investigator told the Associated Press that it could take a year or longer to learn the cause of the crash.
NTSB Investigator Jason Aguilera said Friday that the agency will release a preliminary report in five days, but the full investigative report — and a conclusion on the cause — will take much longer to develop.
According to the National Weather Service, the winds were calm and there were clear skies on Thursday afternoon in the Perryville area.
A local deer hunter's wife called 911 to report the crash on national forest land, said Mike Surrett, chief deputy criminal investigator at the Perry County Sheriff's Department, according to the Oklahoman.
“She saw the airplane swirling. It basically nose-dived and crashed,” Surrett said, according to the Oklahoman. The Arkansas State Police helicopter located the crash site in the rugged area about 6 p.m.
“They were ejected,” Surrett said, according to the Oklahoman. “Debris was scattered over about a 300- or 400-yard area.”
The plane reportedly was a single-engine Piper PA-28.
A 50-year-old native of Salina, Kan., Budke had been the Cowgirl coach since 2005. Serna, a New Mexico native, had been a Budke assistant for seven seasons. They previously worked together at Louisiana Tech.
More heartbreak for campus
In a press conference this morning at Gallagher-Iba Arena, OSU President Burns Hargis described the crash as a "worst nightmare" for a university that experienced a plane crash tragedy that claimed the lives of 10 men associated with the men's basketball program in 2001.
"At the point we are right now, it looks very dark ahead, and it's hard to see any light at all," Hargis said. "If we really help each other support each other through this, someday, somehow we will manage. ... Just as with our tragedy 10 years ago, we will remember."
After the press conference, Shutt said changes in the travel policy that were enacted after the 2001 crash did not affect this type of travel by coaches.
"The coaches still have discretion to use a plane like this to go on a quick trip," he said.
The Cowgirls were scheduled to play a pair of weekend games – hosting Grambling State on Saturday and Texas-Arlington on Sunday – but both have been canceled.
In a statement released by OSU, Hargis was quoted: “The Oklahoma State family is devastated by this tragedy. Our hearts and prayers go out to the families of Kurt Budke, Miranda Serna and the other victims.
“Kurt was an exemplary leader and a man of character who had a profound impact on his student-athletes. He was an outstanding coach and a wonderful person. We send our deepest sympathies to his wife, Shelley, and their children, Sara, Alex and Brett.”
OSU athletic director Mike Holder said Jim Littell, associate head coach of the OSU women’s team, has been designated the interim head coach.
Hargis said counselors have been made available "to everyone, especially to the athletic department and to the team and all the staff," as they cope with the tragedy.
Holder said, "We are shocked by this terrible loss. Kurt Budke was an incredibly positive influence on his players and was a tremendous coach. He quickly turned our program around and put Cowgirl basketball on the map. Miranda was a tireless worker and great recruiter.”
Shutt said the Cowgirl players were notified of the deaths by Littell at a 5:30 a.m. meeting in the team locker room.
Earlier this year, Oklahoma State commemorated the 10th anniversary of the January 27, 2001, plane crash that killed 10 members of the university’s men’s basketball travel party. After a game at Colorado, one of the Cowboys’ team planes crashed near Byers, Colo.
Former OSU men’s coach Eddie Sutton was jarred when informed of the Budke-Serna accident.
“It’s a tragedy,” Sutton said by telephone. “Kurt was really a nice person and a good basketball coach. It brings back a lot of unpleasant memories from 10 months and 10 years ago.
“I think about that (2001 plane crash) every day, but when something like this comes along, you really think about it.”
Sutton said OSU is being dealt more than its share of tragedy.
“I hope nobody else ever has to go through it,” he said.
During a Friday morning ESPN SportsCenter segment, former Cowboy point guard Doug Gottlieb reacted to the Budke news and reflected on the 2001 crash.
“It doesn’t seem fair or real or possible that, 10 months removed from the 10-year anniversary in which we celebrate the lives of the 10 that were lost, that here we are again,” Gottlieb said. “It doesn’t seem right that it would happen to anyone, let alone the same university. But it has, and, in times of tragedy, I think Oklahomans show great respect for one another.
“I have spoken with people from the University of Oklahoma as well as Oklahoma State and many of my teammates and my coaches – the Sutton family. We are all just stunned and saddened and shocked.
“That was a plane crash (in 2001) that rocked the university to its core and this one will do no less. At a time in which the football program has never seen this type of success and is within two games of playing for a national championship, all that pales in comparison to losing other Cowboys and losing other people that are part of the family.”
When informed of the Budke-Serna tragedy, Holder was in Des Moines, Iowa, with the Oklahoma State football team. Tonight, the undefeated and second-ranked Cowboys face Iowa State in a Big 12 game at Ames. Holder returned to Stillwater on Friday morning.
Budke turned team around
In his seventh season as the Cowgirl coach, Budke had a record of 112-83. The 2011-12 Cowgirls opened their season last week with a victory over Rice.
With Budke as the coach, the OSU women made three NCAA Tournament appearances. In 2008 – only two years after having been 0-16 in conference play – the Cowgirls surged to the Sweet Sixteen.
“To say (the Cowgirl program) struggled mightily before his arrival would be an understatement,” said ESPN women's basketball analyst Doris Burke said. “On the strength of his personality and will and competitive drive, he made it a legitimate force in the Big 12 Conference.”
Andrea Riley, Budke’s most prominent former Oklahoma State player, is playing in Turkey and was unavailable for comment. During the 2011 WNBA season, Riley was on the Tulsa Shock roster.
Before accepting the OSU job in 2005, Budke was a highly successful coach at the junior-college level and at Louisiana Tech. While at Trinity Valley (Texas) Community College, he was the national junior-college coach of the year in 1995 and 1998. In three seasons as the Louisiana Tech coach, his record was 80-16.
Serna, a New Mexico native who played for Budke at Trinity Valley Community College, was Oklahoma State’s recruiting coordinator.
“I can’t imagine, (for) that Stillwater community, how painful this is for them,” Burke said. “One of the things about my time covering Oklahoma State – it’s one of the most passionate fan bases in the country. It rallies around that university and its athletic programs.
“It’s surreal that we’re dealing with another tragedy 10 years later. It’s just very difficult.”
World Staff Writers Kevin Canfield, Kelly Hines and Bill Haisten contributed to this report. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
OSU basketball player Liz Donohoe leaves a message on a memorial display at Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater on Friday. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World