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Medical examiners unable to find cause for Oklahoma State University plane crash

Pilot Olin Branstetter's body was in poor condition following a November plane crash that killed him, his wife and two Oklahoma State University coaches, meaning medical examiners were unable to shed any light on whether he experienced a heart attack or a stroke before the crash.
BY SILAS ALLEN sallen@opubco.com Published: February 23, 2012
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Investigators were unable to find any clues to show an 82-year-old pilot had a medical problem before a plane crash that killed him, his wife and two Oklahoma State University coaches in November, according to autopsy reports obtained under an open records request.

The autopsy report for pilot Olin Branstetter, obtained in Arkansas by The Associated Press on behalf of The Oklahoman, stated Branstetter and the others aboard the plane died instantly in the crash.

The generally poor condition of Branstetter's body hindered the ability of medical examiners to determine whether Branstetter experienced a medical event, such as a heart attack or a stroke, before the crash.

Branstetter was piloting a 1964 Piper PA-28-180 Cherokee when it crashed Nov. 17 in the Ouachita National Forest in central Arkansas. Branstetter and his wife, Paula, 79, were killed in the crash, as were OSU women's basketball coach Kurt Budke and assistant coach Miranda Serna.

The two coaches were headed to Little Rock for a recruiting trip. The flight originated in Ponca City, where the Branstetters lived. It landed at Stillwater Regional Airport about 1:45 p.m. to pick up the two coaches. The flight took off from Stillwater at 2:45 p.m., according to a National Transportation Safety Board preliminary report.

The plane was flying southeast at 7,000 feet when it entered a right turn and started to descend, soon disappearing from radar, according to the report.

Charles P. Kokes, the chief medical examiner who performed Branstetter's autopsy, said the fact that Branstetter's body was badly fragmented from the impact made it difficult to find any definite answers.

“In the end, you're just putting together a lot of different puzzle pieces to just try to get the clearest possible picture,” Kokes said. “And in an instance like this, unfortunately, you're going to have far fewer available pieces.”

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