People gather to remember Oklahoma State University plane crash

Wednesday, January 31st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) -- Speaking four days after an airplane crash killed two of his players, Oklahoma State University basketball coach Eddie Sutton told a crowded arena Wednesday that those who died were all stars in their own ways.

Ten people, including two reserves on the school's basketball team, a popular TV sports anchor and five others in the team's traveling party, died when their small plane crashed 40 miles east of Denver on Saturday. The pilot and co-pilot also died.

"Saturday night's tragedy took the lives of 10 people who were precious not only to their families but to each one of us who are here," Sutton, 64, told more than 10,000 people who gathered at Gallagher-Iba Arena to remember what was lost in a snowy field in Colorado.

"In dealing with death, nothing seems more unfair or more confusing or more senseless or more jolting than when the light goes out far too soon on bright young lives, and it did happen Saturday night."

The coach said he was grateful for knowing them.

"Realizing that we are all so fragile and realizing that each moment in life for each of us in this arena is precious and fleeeitng, we vow not only to let go and let God take care of it but also to find ways to live each day to our fullest and loving best," he said.

Sutton and other coaches and members of the team were on two other airplanes the night of the crash.

Gov. Frank Keating said those aboard the doomed plane were champions who died while doing what they loved.

"Gallagher-Iba Arena and Oklahoma State University have been homes to more national champions than any other campus in America," Keating said. "Today we add 10 more champions to that long and storied list.

"Two played the game, five supported them as members of the department and broadcast staff, two were carrying them back home and one was a reporter who never missed a story until that last one."

Students and fans of the Cowboys joined family and friends in mourning the victims. They placed flowers under the school statue of a rider on horseback and placards on a nearby fence.

"We have really been through some tough days and we have some tough days ahead of us," said Kelly Ogle, a TV anchorman and colleague of one of the victims, KWTV sports anchorman Bill Teegins said.

"We are here to remember 10 great guys today and say `thank you' to God that he allowed their lives to intersect with ours. And what a blessing they all were."

Cowboy forward Andre Williams said his religious beliefs have helped him.

"To the families, this isn't really good-bye," he said.

"Because I'm a strong believer in God, this isn't good-bye. We'll see them in the morning."

Students lined up outside Oklahoma State's athletic complex three hours before the memorial service began. Many said it was time to begin the healing process.

"I think maybe this will start bringing some closure," senior Laura Downing said. "Everyone has been walking around campus lately kind of in a daze."

Downing and fellow senior Ashley May were in line by noon.

"We know it's going to be totally packed," May said. "We want to get in."

Afternoon classes were canceled so students could attend the memorial or watch it on TV. Quinton Harris, a junior, said it wouldn't be the same if he weren't inside Gallagher-Iba Arena for the memorial.

"I really wanted to feel a part of it," he said. "Everyone will hopefully be able to start healing."

Families of the victims and other special guests mingled among hundreds of bouquets of flowers before the memorial service started. Some stopped to write messages on an 8-foot tall board.

Many of the notes, scrawled in the Oklahoma State colors of orange and black, were written to all 10 victims.

Inside the gymnasium were large photographs of those who died -- Teegins, players Nate Fleming and Dan Lawson; sports information employee Will Hancock; director of basketball operations Pat Noyes; trainer Brian Luinstra; student manager Jared Weiberg; broadcast engineer Kendall Durfey; pilot Denver Mills; and co-pilot Bjorn Fahlstrom.

They died aboard the twin-engine plane returning from Oklahoma State's game against Colorado. It crashed in a remote field less than 20 minutes into the flight.

"Will, we feel so cheated to have lost you so soon -- and yet so fortunate and blessed to have you in our lives," said one note on the message board signed by Julie, Ed, Sarah, Kyle and Holly.

Another was to "10 special angels."

"You gave so much and brought happiness to so many," it said.

"Thanks for all the memories.You will not be forgotten."

Those in attendance included Cedric Dempsey, executive director of the NCAA; Kansas basketball coach Roy Williams, Texas basketball coach Rick Barnes, Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops, retired Oklahoma football coach Barry Switzer and PGA golfers Bob Tway and Scott Verplank.