STILLWATER — A year after a plane carrying two Oklahoma State University coaches, a former state senator and his wife crashed in the mountains of central Arkansas, OSU officials say they plan to propose an updated travel policy later this month.
Saturday marks the anniversary of the accident that killed OSU women's basketball head coach Kurt Budke, assistant coach Miranda Serna and former state Sen. Olin Branstetter and his wife, Paula.
OSU officials plan to bring the updated travel policy before the Board of Regents for Oklahoma State University and the A&M Colleges at the board's Nov. 30 meeting at Langston University, OSU spokesman Gary Shutt said.
University officials are reviewing the proposed policy internally, Shutt said. He wouldn't discuss details of the policy Friday but said it addresses the types of planes employees may use for travel and requirements for pilots on university-related travel.
OSU officials convened a task force earlier this year to review the university's employee travel policy. The committee included representatives from the OSU faculty and administration, as well as aviation experts, alumni and a member of the Board of Regents, Shutt said.
The task force met seven times to review the university's policies and examine similar policies at other universities, Shutt said.
Cause not known
Federal officials haven't yet determined a cause of the crash. National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Terry Williams said the agency expects to release an accident report in early 2013.
At the time of the crash, the two coaches were traveling from Stillwater to Little Rock, Ark., on a recruiting trip. Olin Branstetter, 82, was piloting the single-engine Piper PA-28-180 Cherokee. Olin Branstetter, an accomplished pilot and licensed flight instructor, had occasionally flown university employees on similar trips.
Three days after the crash, OSU President Burns Hargis said in an email to former Phillips Petroleum Chairman Wayne Allen, an OSU alumnus, that the university would be looking at the possibility of tightening travel policies that cover coaches.
“When I was chairman, the Board would not allow me to fly in single-engine airplanes,” Allen said in an email to Hargis. “When they get the cause sorted out you might consider if it makes sense to have tighter rules. We have had more than our share of airplane accidents.”
In his response, Hargis said a similar rule applies to him.
“We will look at the possibility of extending it to coaches although I already know the push back we will get ... from the coaches,” Hargis said in the email obtained under an open records request. “We'll review it nonetheless.”
Questions have surfaced since the crash about how the university's travel policy applies to coaches. The single-engine Piper did not meet the policy's requirement that aircraft used in university-related travel be “powered by two or more turbine engines.”
OSU officials have said that policy doesn't apply to coaches when they travel without student athletes.
However, a section of the policy deals specifically with coaches and athletic department staff traveling without students. It outlines what types of aircraft are acceptable for such trips. The section states that coaches traveling alone may use other aircraft that would be prohibited for team travel.
The policy then lists what appear to be minimum requirements for such other aircraft. Included in the list is a requirement that aircraft be “powered by two or more turbine engines.”
The proposed policy change would not be the first time OSU has revamped its travel policies for athletics.
The school did so after the Jan. 27, 2001, plane crash that killed two basketball players and eight other men associated with the school or its men's basketball program.