Arkansas authorities say Oklahoma State University women's basketball coach and one of his assistants were killed when their small plane crashed in central Arkansas Thursday.
OSU says women's basketball coach Kurt Budke and assistant women's basketball coach Miranda Serna were killed.
The pilot, a former state senator, and his wife, were also killed. They were big OSU supporters and rarely missed one of the women's games.
Hunters called 911 Thursday afternoon about 4 p.m. and said the plane was "spitting, sputtering and spiraling downward." State police went up in a chopper and found the wreckage, which is spread out over 300 yards.
The single engine Piper Cherokee left from Ponca City. They were going to watch a couple of games. They went down in an area that this forest and steep hills.
The weather was cold and clear with light winds. All four people onboard were killed.
During his six seasons in Stillwater, Coach Budke completely turned the women's basketball program around, making post season appearances in the last five seasons, including a trip to the sweet 16.
He was a Salina, Kansas native and as a player, Kurt earned all conference recognition. He was married and had three kids, one an OSU student. Kurt was known as a great mentor and motivator to his students.
"I know of no one that did that better than Kurt," said Burns Hargis, OSU President.
Miranda Serna was beginning her seventh season as an assistant coach for the OSU women's basketball team. She has worked with Coach Budke as an assistant at Louisiana Tech.
As a player, she earned all America honors. She grew up in New Mexico.
"First in her family to go to college. Both beautiful people. I would love to be the man Kurt is and the person Miranda was," Hargis said.
Pilot, former state senator and oil businessman Olin Branstetter met his wife Paula in the 1950's when they were both students at OSU. Both became pilots in their 40's.
"They loved each other, they loved their family, they loved the Lord and their daily lives were an example of their service to others," Wendy Branstetter, Cousin.
The Ponca City couple and their son Jack flew in the same Piper plane to the North Pole in the '80's. Paula set a world record for being the first woman to fly over the North Pole in a single engine aircraft. Olin and Jack set the record for men.
They dropped a New Testament, Oklahoma and US flags and letters to Santa from Ponca City kids. He set up the Paula Branstetter Aviation Scholarship at OSU in 2001.
|OSU Coach Kurt Budke|
The crash comes almost 11 years after a Colorado plane crash killed ten people associated with the OSU men's basketball team.
On January 27, 2001, ten people died when their plane crashed after a basketball game against the University of Colorado. The victims included nine members of the Oklahoma State University basketball team as well as Bill Teegins, former News On 6 sports anchor and the voice of the OSU Cowboys.
"For one institution to have two airplane catastrophes like that is certainly uncommon," said Eddie Sutton, former Cowboys head basketball coach. "It's a shock to the whole OSU community."
11/18/2011 Related Story: Second Fatal OSU Crash Comes 10 Years, 10 Months Later
Mike Holder, OSU vice president for athletics, 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."
Holder said Jim Littell, associate head coach, would assume duties as interim head coach. The university announced the Cowgirls will not play games scheduled Saturday and Sunday. OSU counselors and athletic staff are offering assistance to the Cowgirl student-athletes and staff, according to a news release.