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Three months after fatal plane crash, Oklahoma State University plans review of travel policy

BY SILAS ALLEN sallen@opubco.com Published: February 23, 2012
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Three months after a plane crash that killed two coaches, a former state senator and his wife, Oklahoma State University officials say they are planning to review the university's travel policy.

The university plans to assemble a committee to look at the policy and recommend changes, OSU spokesman Gary Shutt said Wednesday.

A single-engine Piper PA-28-180 Cherokee crashed Nov. 17 over mountainous terrain in the Ouachita National Forest in central Arkansas. The crash killed OSU women's basketball coach Kurt Budke, assistant coach Miranda Serna and former state Sen. Olin Branstetter, who was piloting the plane. Branstetter's wife, Paula, was also killed.

The two coaches were headed to Little Rock for a recruiting trip.

OSU officials began looking at the possibility of forming the review committee in early January, Shutt said. Although committee members haven't been selected, Shutt said it would include OSU faculty and administrators, and others. A membership list is to be finalized in the next few weeks.

The committee will look at the portions of the university's travel policy that cover coaches, he said. The committee will also look at the policies of other universities. Any recommended policy changes would require approval by the OSU/A&M Board of Regents.

In the months since the crash, university officials have said no policy changes were in the offing but that all university policies are constantly under review. Shutt said no changes to the policy have yet been made.

Tightening rules

Three days after the crash, OSU President Burns Hargis said in an email to former Phillips Petroleum Chairman Wayne Allen, an OSU alumnus, that the university would be looking at the possibility of tightening travel policies that cover coaches.

“When I was chairman, the Board would not allow me to fly in single engine airplanes,” Allen said in an email to Hargis. “When they get the cause sorted out you might consider if it makes sense to have tighter rules. We have had more than our share of airplane accidents.”

In his response, Hargis said a similar rule applies to him.

“We will look at the possibility of extending it to coaches although I already know the push back we will get ... from the coaches,” Hargis said in the email obtained under an open records request. “We'll review it nonetheless.”

Shutt said university officials understand coaches' need for flexibility in their travel arrangements. The athletics department will be represented on the committee, Shutt said, and the coaches' concerns will be considered.

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