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Crash kills Okla. St. women's coach, aide

In this photo taken Nov. 9, 2011 photo, Oklahoma State had coach Kurt Budke, right, sits on the bench next to assistant coach Miranda Serna, left, during an exhibition college basketball game against Fort Hays State in Stillwater, Okla. Budke and Serna were killed in a plane crash Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011, in Arkansas. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
In this photo taken Nov. 9, 2011 photo, Oklahoma State had coach Kurt Budke, right, sits on the bench next to assistant coach Miranda Serna, left, during an exhibition college basketball game against Fort Hays State in Stillwater, Okla. Budke and Serna were killed in a plane crash Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011, in Arkansas. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki) ASSOCIATED PRESS

STILLWATER, Okla. — The Oklahoma State University women's basketball coach and his assistant were killed when the single-engine plane transporting them on a recruiting trip crashed in steep terrain in Arkansas, the university said Friday.

Kurt Budke and Miranda Serna died in the accident Thursday afternoon in the Winona Wildlife Management Area near Perryville, about 45 miles west of Little Rock.

The pilot, 82-year-old former Oklahoma state Sen. Olin Branstetter, and his 79-year-old wife, Paula, also died when the plane sputtered, spiraled out of control and nosedived into the forest.

There were no survivors.

"This is our worst nightmare. The entire OSU family is very close, very close indeed," OSU President Burns Hargis. "To lose anyone, especially these two individuals who are incredible life forces in our family, it is worse beyond words."

The crash is the second major tragedy for the sports program in about a decade. 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've got to try to do that," Hargis said, as he broke down in tears.

After the 2001 crash, the university required that planes used by the school's sports teams undergo safety checks before travel. Hargis said coaches were not bound by the same rules.

Hargis called Budke "an exemplary leader and man of character," and credited him with elevating the team. Serna, he said, was "an up-and-coming coach and an outstanding role model" for the players. Former assistant coach Jim Littell will serve as interim head coach.

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.

On Jan. 27, 2001, a Beechcraft King Air 200 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.

An NTSB report cited a power loss aboard the plane and said the pilot suffered disorientation.

Eddie Sutton, the OSU men's basketball coach at the time of the 2001 crash, said Thursday's crash brought back the emotions he felt a decade ago. "Not a day goes by that I don't think about one of those guys," Sutton said. "It's emotional, believe me."

The weather near the crash site Thursday was clear.

The university hired Budke from Louisiana Tech seven years ago and the coach compiled a 112-83 record.

Budke, 50, coached Serna, 36, and Trinity Valley Community College in Athens, Texas, to a junior college national title in 1996.

Said OSU men's coach Travis Ford, who played at Kentucky: "These girls have lost their coach, we have children who have lost their dad and a wife who has lost her husband. It just, it's unreal. ... I just wish I'd told him more how much he meant to me, just watching him from afar I think they (the women's team) can play for his spirit when they're ready to play."

Oklahoma State canceled its women's home games set for Saturday and Sunday.

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