By Russ Niles, Editor-in-Chief
The NTSB says several of the flight control cables were broken on a Piper Cherokee that crashed, killing four people, including two high-profile college basketball coaches, in 2011. Oklahoma State University Women's Coach Kurt Budke and Assistant Coach Miranda Serna died along with pilot Olin Branstetter, 82, and his wife Paula, 79, when the Cherokee crashed in good weather near Perryville, Ark., Nov. 17, 2011. In the factual report on the accident issued last week, the NTSB said everything else on the aircraft appeared in normal operating condition but the cables were "fractured in multiple places" and that "each fracture was consistent with overload." The impact site suggested the aircraft hit with a 50- to 60-degree nose-down attitude and most of the wreckage was in a hole ten feet wide and three-and-a-half feet deep.
The report (PDF) says the aircraft was level at 7,000 feet heading toward Little Rock on a recruiting trip when it inexplicably entered a descending right turn and disappeared from radar. The NTSB says witnesses on the ground said they saw it at low attitude making turns before it dove into the ground. The pilot had a current medical and clean flying record but medical examiners couldn't determine whether medical incapacitation contributed to the accident. Although by definition a factual report does not determine cause, this report makes a point of noting that Paula Branstetter, also a current pilot, was sitting in the back with Serna and that Budke, sitting in the right seat up front, was not a pilot. Immediately after the crash, OSU tightened standards for aircraft and pilots flying athletic officials. Branstetter, a long-time OSU supporter, was volunteering his personal aircraft and services as a pilot for the flight.