Olin Branstetter was a capable pilot who took good care of his plane, and he provided a service to Oklahoma State University coaches that's critical to their success, a former OSU coach and Branstetter's home airport manager said.
Branstetter, 82, was the pilot in the Nov. 17 plane crash that killed OSU women's basketball coach Kurt Budke. Branstetter, Budke, assistant coach Miranda Serna and Branstetter's wife and fellow pilot, Paula, died when the four-seat, single-engine plane crashed in mountainous central Arkansas.
Former OSU coach Julie Goodenough, who preceded Budke and is now the coach at Charleston Southern University, flew often with the Branstetters on recruiting trips. It was a recruiting trip to Little Rock, Ark., that took the Branstetters, Budke and Serna to Arkansas on the day of the crash.
“They were a really sweet couple, and they loved Oklahoma State ... and that (flying) was a way they could help us from a recruiting standpoint,” Goodenough said.
“I flew on their plane numerous times. ... I felt very safe with them, very comfortable.”
Don Nuzum, manager of Ponca City Regional Airport, where the
Part of the job
College coaches, particularly those working at schools like OSU in major conferences like the Big 12, routinely make use of smaller private airplanes for recruiting.
It allows them to plan travel that fits their schedules, which can be stretched to the limit due to practice, game and family demands.
Using private travel also frees coaches to make several stops in a given trip when scouting more than one prospect, with direct flights typically available into smaller airports closer to their target locations.
Goodenough, who led OSU's women's team from 2003 to 2005, said the convenience of private planes is crucial.
A recent trip to Florida on a commercial airline she took for her job highlights the advantages of flying with a private pilot.
“I just went to Tampa to watch one game, and I got stuck in Sarasota all day on Friday,” she said. “I couldn't make it back for practice (and) missed my daughter's game because I was relying on commercial flights.”
OSU owns planes for use only for its aviation school, spokesman Gary Shutt said. When faculty, staff or students fly on university business, they typically do so via commercial or charter flights.
In other cases, donors like the Branstetters fly university employees on private planes.
University of Oklahoma officials occasionally travel on university-owned aircraft for business travel. According to OU travel-use logs, passengers on those trips mainly include staff from the OU president's office, office of university development and athletic department.
OSU hasn't made any policy changes since the crash regarding employee travel or issued any advisories or memos asking employees to exercise greater caution when making travel arrangements, OSU President Burns Hargis said.
The Branstetters' airplane didn't meet the OSU travel policy standard for travel involving student-athletes, but school officials said the trip was within guidelines because there were no students aboard.
Travel involving students requires planes with at least two engines, and the Branstetters' plane had only one.
Nuzum said everyone at the Ponca City airport, where the Branstetters had been regulars for decades, regarded the Branstetters as skilled and dedicated pilots who were committed to local aviation booster groups and youth pilot programs.
The Branstetters flew a Piper PA-28-180 Cherokee, built in 1964. The plane and the Branstetters gained notice when they used it to fly over the magnetic North Pole in 1984. It was the first single-engine stock plane to do so.
The Branstetters maintained the plane well and were not the type to miss a mechanical problem that could be identified by an experienced pilot, Nuzum said. Their presence has been missed in Ponca City.
“They were always out flying, all the time,” Nuzum said. “You'd always hear them in the pattern, doing their normal practice landings and takeoffs and that kind of stuff, practicing their instrument approaches. They'd be off doing business and whatever else they'd do in their airplane.”
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash.
Officials so far have ruled out the weather and running out of fuel, but a preliminary report did not identify the cause of the crash. A full report, which would name the cause of the crash if it can be determined, may be at least a year away.
University of Oklahoma officials said, “Ensuring the safety of our student athletes and coaches is the most important consideration for travel. Scheduled commercial carriers are preferred for their reliability, accountability and dependability, however, regardless of the carrier, whether commercial or charter, evaluation criteria include such safety considerations as age of the aircraft, FAA certifications, operation and maintenance information and a safety review of the specific aircraft and operator. Any private aircraft used by university staff, including coaches, are reviewed for safety, maintenance, and other criteria through a University registration and assessment process prior to approval for the use of the aircraft for university-