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OSU radio engineer Joe Riddle forms bond with plane crash victim's mother

Kendall Durfey was one of the members of the OSU traveling party killed in a plane crash nearly 10 years ago. Joe Riddle, who Durfey replaced on that trip, has built a bond with Durfey's mother.
BY JOHN HELSLEY, Staff Writer, jhelsley@opubco.com Modified: January 14, 2011 at 9:18 pm •  Published: January 14, 2011
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Joe Riddle's Facebook page, down the left side of the grid, features the names and faces of several family members.

Among them: Ellen Wright, Amy Durfey-Guernsey and Karlene Durfey.

Family not by blood but by circumstance.

Amazing circumstance.

Kendall Durfey, Ellen Wright's son and brother to the others, replaced Riddle on the plane that tragically crashed coming up on 10 years ago, returning 10 members of the Oklahoma State basketball party from a game in Boulder, Colo.

Riddle would have been on that plane had Durfey not answered a favor and replaced his friend in the job the two men shared as engineers for the Cowboy Radio Network.

Riddle and the Cowboys are back in Boulder for a game Saturday, perhaps for the last time with the Buffaloes bolting the Big 12 for the Pac-10 next season.

Naturally, emotions and reflections are ripe. There's this trip. The 10th anniversary approaches on Jan. 27. And besides knowing all 10 men aboard and holding special relationships with several, Riddle always thinks of Durfey and what might have been, if not for a work conflict in Tulsa that led to the switch.

Riddle carried those heavy thoughts until a chance meeting at a reception both attended.

“I saw Kendall's mom, and it took all the guts in the world for me to go introduce myself to her,” Riddle said. “I went over and it was real emotional, because, what do you say?

“She said, ‘Oh, Joe, I listen to you every morning on KRMG.' I looked at her and I said, ‘How can you listen to me every morning knowing that if I hadn't traded places with Kendall, you'd have your son?' And she said, ‘Oh, Joe, I've never thought of that ever.' “And I said, ‘Really?' And that was huge. They talk about survivor's guilt, I know what that's about. And she lifted a lot of that.”

These days, they lift each other.

Wright lost a son, her first-born of four children.

Riddle lost a friend. And then three months later, he lost his mother.

In one another, they each found something.

“We just kind of kept drifting together,” Wright said. “We just sort of adopted each other.”

Literally.

“It rolled around to being Mother's Day that next year,” Riddle said. “It occurred to me, it's Mother's Day and Kendall can't call his mother and I can't call my mom, so I'm going to call Kendall's mom and say, ‘Happy Mother's Day, mom, I love you.'

“And she said, ‘I love you, too.'”

And so on Riddle's Facebook page, Wright is listed as “mother.” And the two girls are “sisters.” And there's a brother, too, Nelson Durfey.

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Oklahoma State at Colorado

When: 12:45 p.m.

Where: Coors Events Center, Boulder, Colo.

Radio: KXXY 96.1 FM

TV: KOCB-34 (Cox 11)

Three things to know

The Buffaloes are 10-0 at home and coming off back-to-back wins against Top 25 teams — Missouri and Kansas State.

The Cowboys are 1-2 in true road games, with a double-overtime win over La Salle and blowout losses to Gonzaga and Texas A&M.

Guards Alec Burks and Cory Higgins are both NBA prospects, with Burks a likely lottery pick.

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