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OSU coaches Kurt Budke, Miranda Serna and two people die in plane crash

Oklahoma State University women's basketball coach Kurt Budke, assistant coach Miranda Serna, former state Sen. Olin Branstetter and his wife, Paula, were killed Thursday in a plane crash in central Arkansas.
by Bryan Painter Modified: November 18, 2011 at 9:37 pm •  Published: November 18, 2011

“It's just a terrible, terrible tragedy. Everybody down there has our prayers,” Surrett said.

Branstetter was a longtime pilot. The plane that crashed appeared to be the same one he used in a well-publicized flight to the North Pole in 1984.

Branstetter was elected as a Republican state senator in 1986 and served through 1990.

OSU changed policy

The university adopted an 11-page travel policy after the 2001 crash in Colorado. The policy placed restrictions on the types of aircraft that can be used and pilot qualifications that are required, but school officials said Friday the policy doesn't apply to coaches' recruiting trips when no student-athletes are on board.

In the 2001 crash, a twin-engine Beechcraft King Air 200 crashed in a field east of Denver about half an hour after taking off amid light snow. Investigators concluded the pilot was disoriented, and the plane suffered a loss of power.

A campus mourns

Budke and Serna led a dramatic turnaround of the Cowgirls' fortunes, turning a cellar-dwelling program into a conference title contender and NCAA Tournament participant.

Megan Byford, who played for Budke and Serna for three years, said her coaches made an impact on her life and her teammates'.

“He really cared about his players,” she said.

“God was first, family was second and basketball was third. He had his priorities in line. I will always be grateful to him for the opportunities that he gave me. There are a lot of girls that feel the same way. He just gave us an opportunity to have an amazing experience and to learn so much not only about basketball, but about life.”

Byford said Serna was one of the most kindhearted women that she'd ever met in her life.

“She would do anything for any of us players,” Byford said. “She would bend over backward for you. She just loved life. She brought so much energy every day to practice.”

Friends and colleagues of the victims, along with students, fans and other members of the OSU community, gathered in the east lobby of Gallagher-Iba Arena, where the Cowgirls play their home games.

Flowers, balloons, other mementos and photos of the coaches accompanied large banners signed throughout the day by mourners.

Trevor Nutter, a junior at OSU, said he met both coaches two or three times. Nutter works for Cowboy Dining, a food service company that occasionally serves the basketball teams.

Serna was “someone you would want to aspire to be,” Nutter said. “Coach Budke was just a real high-class gentleman. You don't have to be on campus to know that it's pretty painful.”

Stan Warfield, a retired pastor at First United Methodist Church in Stillwater who signed one of the banners, was also among the people who knew both coaches. He recalled the strong faith both coaches had, along with their friendliness and kindness.

“Coach Budke never met a stranger,” Warfield said.

A Salina, Kan., native, Budke is survived by his wife, Shelley. They have three children: Sara, who is a student at OSU, Alex and Brett.

Serna was a native of Guadalupita, N.M., and is survived by her mother, Nettie Hererra; father, John Serna, and sister, Cassandra.

Contributing: Staff Writers Diana Baldwin, Silas Allen, Bryan Painter, Robert Medley, Carrie Coppernoll, Sonya Colberg, Michael McNutt, Chris Casteel and Sheila Stogsdill and Randy Ellis

The Collected Wisdom of Kurt Budke Berry Tramel blog: Tragedy strikes again Jan. 27, 2001: 'We Will Remember' View/sign the guest book for Olin Branstetter View/sign the guest book for Kurt Budke View/sign the guest book for Miranda Serna View/sign the guest book for Paula Branstetter Nick Trougakos blog: Remembering Coach Budke Jenni Carlson's blog: Kurt Budke: One of the good guys Mike Baldwin blog: Extremely sad day Gina Mizell blog: Budke made early impression has disabled the comments for this article.
by Bryan Painter
Assistant Local Editor
Bryan Painter, assistant local editor, has 31 years’ experience in journalism, including 22 years with the state's largest newspaper, The Oklahoman. In that time he has covered such events as the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah...
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