Wounds still fresh a year after Oklahoma State plane crash

Saturday, January 26th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Dan Noyes' misery is deep, growing with bitterness and rage directed at a university basketball program that allowed his son to fly in a twin-engine airplane on a snowy Colorado night.

Pat Noyes, the 27-year-old director of basketball operations, was one of 10 members of Oklahoma State's basketball program killed when the turboprop plane fell from the sky and broke apart in a barren field Jan. 27, 2001 near Byers, Colo.

A year later, the parents of three young people killed that night are venting their anger at the school.

Dan Noyes says he hasn't even begun to heal. He holds the university and head coach Eddie Sutton responsible, saying he should have resigned.

``Apparently his 700th win is more important than those eight lives,'' he said. ``That plane had no business being in the air. The people that allowed that plane to go are absolutely responsible for the lives of at least eight wonderful people. The pilots should have known better.

``Maybe when something like this happens, you look for someone to blame. But I didn't have to look too far.''

Noyes is convinced low visibility that night, as well as poor maintenance of the plane's electrical system, caused it to crash on its way back to Stillwater after the team lost to the University of Colorado.

An initial National Transportation Safety Board investigation showed the Beechcraft King Air 200 lost power before the accident. The altimeter was stuck at 23,220 feet. A final report isn't expected until this spring.

Others killed were players Daniel Lawson and Nate Fleming, publicist Will Hancock, trainer Brian Luinstra, manager Jared Weiberg, play-by-play announcer Bill Teegins, radio engineer Kendall Durfey, and pilot Denver Mills and co-pilot Bjorn Fahlstrom.

The pilots were told ice could form on the wings on the aircraft, but conditions were not harsh enough for authorities to ground the plane, investigators said. Another pilot in the area that night reported one-mile visibility and snow and mist. It was minus 4 degrees when the plane took off from Jefferson County Airport near Golden, Colo.

Sutton said Mills was the safest of pilots.

``When people criticize Denver Mills I don't like that because I know that if there was any way he could have gotten that plane down safely, he would have done it,'' the coach said.

``I would never put anybody on an airplane that I wouldn't get on and I would never put anybody on an airplane that we didn't know that the maintenance was well done and the airplane was safe and the pilots were safe.''

Harry Birdwell, the university's vice president of business and external relations, said he would not respond to the families' criticism.

``Through the entire year, the university has attempted to keep its arms around the families and love them and nurture them,'' he said.

School officials announced this week the basketball team will use a 32-seat charter jet the rest of the season. The 11-seat plane that crashed was the smallest of three paid for privately by backers of the program. The other two were corporate jets.

Noyes says it's too little, too late.

``They had to kill my son and seven other people first,'' he said.

Pat Noyes, who dreamed of becoming a head coach, is buried on a hill in Stillwater with a view of Gallagher-Iba Arena. The tombstone is wide enough for three people and has his parents' names on each side.

``The only time I'll ever be happy is when I go up there the last time,'' Dan Noyes said. ``I've got to live with it, but I hate life.''

Zane Fleming, whose 20-year-old son was killed in the crash, was on the task force that recommended the school use the 32-seat charter plane.

He also hired a private investigator to inspect the crash site.

The family has filed legal actions against the state, the pilot's estate and the company that owned the plane. Fleming said he is angry the school used donated planes and part-time pilots.

``If we can do the things that I'd like to see done, then it will give all of those men who died some significance,'' he said. ``OSU will be a safer place to travel for a student athlete. Other Big 12 schools will take heed. The NCAA will look more at safety.''

Fleming said he misses his son more lately because it's basketball season.

``My heart is broken, like I'm in a continuous nightmare,'' he said.

Phyllis and Daniel Lawson Sr. also have filed lawsuits to find out every detail they can about the crash that killed their 21-year-old son. They blame the university, the coach and the pilots.

``Danny has always had a fear of those little prop planes,'' said Phyllis Lawson, who lives in Detroit. ``He used to call me before they were leaving and ask me to pray with him. He didn't think he was going to make it one of these times.''

She fell out of a chair and passed out when an older son informed her of the crash.

``We're still in shock,'' she said. ``It's the worst thing I've ever had to go through. You're not supposed to lose your children. I can be washing dishes or looking out the window and any little thing will remind me.''

Sometimes when she watches Detroit Pistons games, she pretends one of the players is her son.

``I scrunch my eyes where I really can't make out his face and I just allow myself to say, 'That's Danny,''' Phyllis said. ``Sometimes I'm in denial like that.''

Dan Noyes plays a similar trick.

``I never saw his body,'' he said. ``When I walk in a mall or anywhere there's a crowd of people, I look for him. I do believe in miracles. I don't want to let go of that and I never will.

``Pat was our knight in shinning armor. He was going a long, long way and that's been so stupidly taken away from us.''