STILLWATER — As Oklahoma State University mourns after the second airplane crash to devastate its basketball programs in 11 years, questions have arisen as to how this happened at a school that adopted one of the most strict athletic travel policies in the nation following the first crash in 2001.
The airplane that crashed Thursday killing four people near Perryville, Ark., was a single-engine Piper that would not meet the OSU team travel policy's minimum requirement for aircraft to be “powered by two or more turbine engines.”
Gary Shutt, OSU spokesman, said university officials assert the airplane wasn't required to meet that standard because it was a recruiting trip and no student athletes were on board.
“The team travel policy only applies to team travel,” Shutt said. “The coaches, if they're doing other types of travel, like recruiting, it does not fall under that policy.”
OSU head women's basketball coach Kurt Budke, 50, died in the crash, along with assistant coach Miranda Serna, 36.
Also killed were pilot Olin Branstetter, 82, an OSU booster and former state senator; and the pilot's wife, Paula, 79.
A memorial service is scheduled for 1 p.m. Monday at Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater.
While the university has taken the position its team travel policy did not apply to this trip, the policy itself addresses team travel as well as coaches traveling without players.
Much of the 11-page policy is devoted to listing what is required when commercial aircraft, charter flights or time-share flights are used for team travel. The policy then moves to a section that lists specific requirements for other aircraft.
“Other aircraft are an acceptable means of travel for coaches and professional athletic department staff, based on personal election,” the section states.
It then lists what appear to be minimum requirements for such “other aircraft,” including that “the aircraft are powered by two or more turbine
Another section titled “Other Aircraft Approval” states that OSU's “aviation consultant must approve in writing the use of aircraft prior to travel.”
Shutt said it's his understanding Budke didn't obtain written approval but that university attorneys don't believe he needed to because no team members were on the plane.
The age of the pilot, 82, and age of the airplane, which was built in 1964, have prompted some to wonder whether those were risk factors.
Shutt said such issues are left to the coaches'
Branstetter had a commercial pilot's license, was a certified flight instructor and was qualified for the airplane he was piloting, Federal Aviation Administration records indicate.
Branstetter passed his last pilot's physical in April 2010 and wasn't due for another one until 2012, said Lynn Lunsford, FAA spokesman.
The pilot had a clean record with no history of
Shutt said he didn't know when, if ever, the OSU athletic department previously had used Branstetter's services as a pilot but said Branstetter had donated an aviation scholarship to the university.
Shutt said he also didn't know how common it was for OSU coaches to be flown around in single-engine planes on recruiting trips, but noted that commercial airlines often don't lend themselves very well to recruiting trips in difficult-to-reach places.
This is the second time in a little more than a decade that OSU fans have been in mourning after a devastating plane crash.
In January 2001, an airplane crashed near Strasburg, Colo., killing 10 men associated with the OSU men's basketball program.
After that tragedy, a task force was formed that recommended a new travel policy to better protect the safety of student athletes.
The policy covers not only air travel but also travel by vans and other means of transportation.
It is very specific in many areas. For example, when 12- and 15-passenger vans are used, it requires them to have a 155-inch wheelbase and that they be equipped with “E” rated tires. There are strict requirements regarding the qualifications of drivers and pilots, as well.
Shutt said the university constantly is updating its policies but that he didn't know whether changes would be made regarding coaches' travel in light of the latest tragedy.