STILLWATER, Okla. -- The Oklahoma State University women’s basketball coach and his assistant coach were killed when the single-engine plane they were in during a recruiting trip crashed in steep terrain in Arkansas, the university confirmed Friday morning.

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.

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, prompting the university to require that planes used by the school’s sports team undergo safety checks before travel. It wasn’t immediately clear if the same policy applied to travel by coaches or administrators.

Budke, Serna together for decade

Kurt Budke was a successful junior college coach when he took over Louisiana Tech.

He engineered an impressive turnaround when he moved to Oklahoma State. Wherever Budke went, he won. Budke won four junior-college national titles at Trinity Valley (Texas) and took Louisiana Tech to the NCAA tournament all three years as head coach before he came back to the Midwest, closer to his native Kansas.

He took over a struggling Oklahoma State program in March 2005. The Cowgirls went 0-16 in Big 12 play in his first season, then secured their first bid to the NCAA tournament in a decade. The next year brought a trip to the Round of 16. The program has been to the postseason the past five years.

A Salina, Kan., native, Budke was a married father of three, including a daughter currently at Oklahoma State. He played basketball for Barton County (Kan.) Junior College and graduated from Washburn in 1984 with a bachelor's degree in physical education. After some early small-college jobs, he became head coach at Trinity Valley.

The 1996 title team included Serna, a Guadalupita, N.M., native who later played at Houston. She played under Budke at Trinity Valley and later was an assistant for him at Louisiana Tech before joining him at Oklahoma State as the recruiting coordinator.

“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.

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.

“On behalf of the NCAA, I want to express my deepest sympathies to the families, friends and colleagues of Kurt Budke and Miranda Serna and the other victims of [Thursday] night’s plane crash,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said. “For any coaching community to lose bright stars like Kurt and Miranda is tragic.

“This is a profound loss for the Oklahoma State women’s basketball family, the entire university and future women’s basketball players as well. The NCAA stands ready to help Oklahoma State should it need any assistance as it copes with this terrible accident.”

OSU hired Budke from Louisiana Tech seven years ago and the coach compiled a 112-83 record at the school. This year’s team was 1-0 after defeating Rice on Sunday.

“I was devastated when I received the call [Friday] morning, I just looked at my son and started crying,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. “My first thoughts went to Kurt Budke’s wife, his children and Miranda Serna’s family.

“It just hits home with all of us in this profession that truly we just coach a game. There’s a bigger picture out there and it’s not a basketball game, it puts life in perspective.  I feel for the Oklahoma State community, how many more tragedies can they endure?

“Oklahoma State and women’s basketball have lost two more fine people and our thoughts are with the families and Cowgirl student-athletes during this most difficult time.”

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 Branstetter.

Thursday night, the weather near the crash site was clear with temperatures in the upper 30s to mid-40s.

“The tragedy at Oklahoma State, which has known its share of tragedy in the past, leaves you with a helpless feeling,” Connecticut coach Gene Auriemma said. “My heart goes out to the families of Kurt and Miranda and everyone associated with the basketball program and university.

“The women’s college basketball community just lost two family members and all of us are feeling the effects. There won’t be a day that goes by this season that we won’t think about them in one form or another.”

The plane that crashed in 2001, a Beechcraft King Air 200, had been donated by a school booster.

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.

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.

KURT BUDKE'S CAREER RECORD
Year School W- L   Year School W- L
2002-03 Louisiana Tech 31-3   2007-08 Oklahoma St. 27-8
2003-04 Louisiana Tech 29-3   2008-09 Oklahoma St. 17-16
2004-05 Louisiana Tech 20-10   2009-10 Oklahoma St. 24-11
2005-06 Oklahoma St. 6-22   2010-11 Oklahoma St. 17-15
2006-07 Oklahoma St. 20-11   2011-12 Oklahoma St. 1-0
        Totals   192-99