Oklahoma State University plane crash pilot recalled as competent, helpful

BY MICHAEL KIMBALL mkimball@opubco.com Published: December 13, 2011
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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.

Well-maintained plane

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.

Contributing: Staff Writers John Helsley and Silas Allen


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OU's response

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-related travel.”

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