Oklahoma State women’s basketball Coach Kurt Budke and assistant Miranda Serna were killed in a plane crash on Thursday night in a tragedy 10 years after a similar incident claimed the lives of 10 people affiliated with the school’s men’s basketball program.
The single-engine plane carrying Budke and Serna went down near Perryville, Ark., approximately 45 miles west of Little Rock, also killing the pilot and another person not affiliated with the university, according to the school. The cause of the crash has yet to be determined.
“This is obviously an incredibly devastating event,” university President Burns Hargis said during a news conference on Friday. “It’s our worst nightmare. The entire OSU family is very close, very close indeed, and to lose anyone, especially these two individuals who were incredible life forces in our family, it’s worse beyond words.”
Budke, 50, was beginning his seventh season with the Cowgirls, who opened with a 96-60 victory at home over Rice on Sunday. The school announced both games scheduled for this weekend have been canceled and that associate head coach Jim Littell would take over on an interim basis.
Budke and Serna were on a recruiting trip when the Piper PA-28 in which they were riding crashed close to a wildlife management area in the central part of the state along the Ouachita Mountains. According to the Perry County Sheriff’s Department, the crash happened shortly before 7 p.m., roughly four miles south of Perryville.
FAA records indicated the plane was built in 1964 and registered to Olin Branstetter of Ponca City, Okla., according to the Associated Press, which left an answering machine message at a number for Branstetter that was not immediately returned. The National Transportation Safety Board said it was sending investigators and that it could take nine months to determine the cause.
The death of Budke and Serna leaves the Oklahoma State community in mourning again a decade after a plane that departed from Boulder, Colo., on Jan. 27, 2001, crashed east of Denver. Two Cowboys men’s basketball players, four team officials, a play-by-play announcer, a radio engineer and both pilots were killed.
“We are shocked by this terrible loss,” Mike Holder, the school’s vice president for athletics, said in a statement. “Kurt Budke was an incredibly positive influence on his players and was a tremendous coach. He quickly turned our program around and put Cowgirl basketball on the map.”
Oklahoma State did not win a game in the Big 12 during Budke’s first season, but he soon turned the program into conference power and landed it on the national women’s basketball landscape. The Cowgirls finished ranked in the top 10 for the first time in 2009-10, set a school record with six victories over top 25 opponents and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
In 2007-08, Budke directed the Cowgirls to 27 wins, matching a school record, and their first berth in the Big 12 title game as well as their second appearance in the NCAA tournament round of 16.
Budke began his coaching career at the community college level. One of those stops was Trinity Valley Community College in Athens, Tex., where Budke coached Serna on the Cardinals’ 1996 national championship team.
Serna also served as an assistant on Trinity Valley’s 1999 championship team and with Budke after he became the coach at Louisiana Tech, his last stop before arriving in Stillwater, Okla.
“It’s a terrible tragedy for obviously Miranda’s family, for Kurt’s family, but just also for the women’s basketball community as a whole,” said American Coach Matt Corkery, who coached against Budke while at Howard (Tex.) College in the mid-1990s. “Everybody’s feeling the loss today for sure.”
Maryland women’s basketball Coach Brenda Frese said she learned of the news as she was driving her two boys to school. Frese, who won the national championship the same season Budke book over at Oklahoma State, last spoke with Budke over the summer when both happened to be in the same gym in the Midwest along the recruiting trail.
“I remember being up in Chicago talking to him about his kids,” Frese said. “Just in a state of shock. We all do these things that we consider routine, and it can end so quickly.”
Budke is survived by wife Shelley; daughter Sara, a student at Oklahoma State; and sons Alex and Brett.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.