Authorities have finished the on-scene portion of their investigation into the deadly plane crash involving Oklahoma State University women's basketball coach Kurt Budke, but the only factor they've been able to rule out as a possible cause so far is the weather.
Investigators spent Friday and Saturday documenting the location and condition of the wreckage of the four-seat Piper PA-28-180 Cherokee aircraft, said Jason Aguilera, an air safety investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board. The single-engine plane crashed Thursday in mountainous central Arkansas, killing Budke, 50; assistant coach Miranda Serna, 36; pilot and former state Sen. Olin Branstetter, 82, and his wife, Paula, 79.
The evidence confirmed that the plane crashed nose first, Aguilera said.
“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.”
Beyond that, the cause of the crash remains unclear, Aguilera said. The weather was relatively clear at the time, so it was not a factor in the crash.
Officials are still in what Aguilera called a “fact-finding stage” of the ongoing investigation. Authorities took the wreckage to a secure area in Clinton, Ark., on the property of Dawson Aircraft Services, a business that specializes in aircraft salvage.
Investigators are studying each piece of wreckage, searching for any clues of a mechanical problem or damage from before the plane plummeted to the ground, Aguilera said.
The plane, built in 1964, crashed into a ridge about 4:30 p.m. Thursday in a heavily wooded part of the Ouachita National Forest about 45 miles northwest of Little Rock, Ark., in the Winona Wildlife Management Area. The plane was en route to Little Rock so Budke and Serna could watch basketball games as part of a recruiting trip.
The NTSB typically releases a preliminary report on plane crashes within about a week, but a full report can take a year or more.
Perry County sheriff's deputies also were a part of the crash site cleanup Saturday, a dispatcher said.
AT A GLANCE
• A memorial service for the four victims is set for 1 p.m. Monday at Gallagher-Iba Arena on the OSU campus in Stillwater, where Kurt Budke's Cowgirls play their home games.
• Funeral services for Olin and Paula Branstetter are scheduled for 2 p.m. Tuesday at the Assembly of God in Ponca City under the direction of Trout Funeral Home.