Oklahoma State women's basketball coach Kurt Budke and assistant coach Miranda Serna were killed Thursday -- along with two others -- in a plane crash while recruiting in Arkansas.
The university said Kurt Budke and Miranda Serna died in the crash Thursday afternoon in the Winona Wildlife Management Area near Perryville, about 45 miles west of Little Rock. The pilot, former Oklahoma state Sen. Olin Branstetter, and his wife Paula also died in the crash, university president Burns Hargis said at a news conference.
There were no survivors.
"This is our worst nightmare. The entire OSU family is very close, very close indeed. To lose anyone, especially these two individuals who are incredible life forces in our family, it is worse beyond words," Hargis said.
Budke, 50, a Salina, Kan., native, had been the head coach since 2005 and is married with three children. Serna came to Stillwater with Budke from Louisiana Tech seven years ago.
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“The Oklahoma State family is devastated by this tragedy,” Hargis said. “Our hearts and prayers go out to the families of Kurt Budke, Miranda Serna and the other victims."
The Perry County (Ark.) Sheriff's Department said the crash occurred just before 7 p.m. about 4 miles south of Perryville. FAA spokesman Lynn Lunsford said an immediate search revealed that at least two were dead. The school's statement Friday put the death toll at four.
Lunsford said the plane was a single-engine Piper PA-28. The National Transportation Safety Board said it was sending investigators, and that it could take nine months to determine the cause of the crash.
FAA records showed that the plane was built in 1964 and registered to Olin Branstetter of Ponca City, Okla. A telephone message left on an answering machine at a number for Branstetter wasn't immediately returned Friday morning.
This is the second major tragedy involving the Oklahoma State basketball programs. In January 2001, 10 men affiliated with the university's men's basketball team died in a Colorado plane crash.
"When something like this happens and, God forbid it happened again, we have to pull together as a family, we have to try to do that," Hargis said, as he broke down in tears.
On Jan. 27, 2001, one of three planes carrying players and others connected to the OSU men's basketball team crashed in a field 40 miles east of Denver as the Cowboys returned from a game at Colorado. The crash occurred about 35 minutes after the plane took off in light snow.
After that crash, the university began requiring a firm to check out the condition of any plane used by a school sports team. It wasn't immediately known if that policy also applied to planes that carry only coaches or other school employees, or if the plane the women's coaches were traveling in had undergone an independent check.
An NTSB report cited a power loss aboard the plane and said the pilot suffered disorientation while flying the plane manually with still-available instruments. On Thursday night, the weather near the crash site was clear with temperatures in the upper 30s to mid-40s.
Budke compiled a record of 112-83 and the team opened the season with a victory over Rice on Sunday. The Cowgirls had been to the postseason each of the past five seasons.
Associate head coach Jim Littell will assume the head coaching duties.
Oklahoma State canceled its women's college basketball home games set for Saturday and Sunday. The school's second-ranked college football team plays Friday night at Iowa State.
Hargis credited Budke, 50, with elevating the team in a tough program. Serna, he said, set a good example for the players.
"Our hearts and prayers go out to the families of Kurt Budke, Miranda Serna and the other victims. Kurt was an exemplary leader and a man of character who had a profound impact on his student-athletes," Hargis said. "Miranda was an up-and-coming coach and an outstanding role model for our young ladies."
"I don't know a lot about what happened or about how it happened, but I know they are gone. They are here in our hearts," he told reporters.
OSU Director of Communications Gary Schutt said counselors are available on campus for members of the team, faculty and anyone who needs help, and that a memorial was being planned for Monday.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.