Investigators have ruled out weather as a factor in the crash that killed two Oklahoma State University basketball coaches and determined that the Cherokee 180 involved hit the ground nose-first. The crash killed OSU Cowgirls coach Kurt Budke and assistant coach Miranda Serna. The pilot and aircraft owner, former state senator Olin Branstetter, and his wife Paula were also killed. The aircraft crashed about 4:30 p.m. in mountainous terrain 45 miles northwest of Little Rock, Ark. NTSB investigator Jason Aguilera told The Oklahoman the nose-down attitude leads to inescapable speculation on the flight’s final moments. “That’s pretty significant,” he said. “That makes us feel as though there’s a good chance there was a loss of control prior to impact.” And while there’s no initial indication that the size and type of aircraft had any bearing on the crash, size is apparently all that matters for OSU and other schools now assessing the transportation policies for staff and students.
OSU already has strict rules in place governing aircraft used for transporting student athletes after a 2001 crash killed 10 members of the men’s football team. The minimum standard is a twin-engine turboprop (the 2001 crash plane was a King Air 200) and it must be rented from a charter service that has been vetted by the school’s own aviation consultant. Aircraft privately owned by school benefactors are not to be used. However, there is some question whether that rule applies when coaches and other staff travel for recruiting (as was the case Thursday) and other athletic business. Branstetter, 82, was a longtime OSU supporter who donated the money to start an aviation program at the school. He was also a longtime pilot who had flown the aircraft involved in Thursday’s crash over the North Pole in 1984. The FAA said his medical was current and he had a clean flying record.