NTSB investigates deadly OSU crash

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Updated: 11/18/2011 8:13 pm Published: 11/18/2011 7:54 pm

Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board wrapped up for the night but will return to the Central Arkansas plane crash site Saturday morning.

Thursday night, OSU women's basketball coach Kurt Badke and assistant coach Miranda Serna along with pilot and former state senator Olin Branstetter and his wife Paula were killed in a plane crash.

They were on a recruiting trip to Arkansas.

NTSB investigators traveled from Denver and arrived at the site near Perryville, AR. around 2 p.m. Friday. The site is about 45 minutes west of Little Rock. 

The OSU Assistant Athletic Director, a campus police official and the aviation director were also on the scene Friday night.

The crash happened about three miles southeast of Union Valley Road, and a quarter mile off the road on a hill near Perryville.

NTSB Air Safety investigator Jason Aguilera says currenlty the only evidence found is that the plane hit a ridge line along the Ouachita National Forest.

He would not say if there were mechanical problems and did not rule out pilot error.

Aguilera says the plane debris is spread about 50-70 yards. They spent about three hours investigating the wreckage.

The Perry County Sheriff says a hunter called 911 Thursday at 4:28 p.m.

"It was struggling, it was spitting and sputtering, spiraled out of control and crashed in to the woods,” says Sheriff Scott Montgomery of the hunter.

Another hunter heard plane troubles.

"It revved up real loud and it dropped. It revved up real loud and it sounded all strange,” says hunter Bernie Garrett.

Then he heard nothing but the natural sounds of the Ouachita Forest.

"I didn't see a plane, I didn't hear a crash. I didn't think something was right,” says Garrett.

The thick forest almost made it impossible to find the wreckage, fortunately the hunter who called 911 had GPS coordinates.

"Between that and the helicopter that is the only way we would have found it,” says Montgomery.

An hour and half later an Arkansas State Police chopper found Budke, Serna and the Branstetters plane in pieces.

"It was terrible, it was a terrible crash,” says Montgomery.

They found debris from a 1964, Piper PA-28. The plane seats four passengers and is a single engine plane.

"To our knowledge the pilot did not give out any kind of distress signal,” says Montgomery.

The Sheriff has been told the last contact from the plane carrying the coaches was with Little Rock about weather conditions but the FAA has not released a flight path.

It is unclear if the plane was traveling to Little Rock or heading back Oklahoma after scouting a high school basketball game in Little Rock.

The Sheriff says they found Serna’s identification card at the scene. He says he returned to the office around midnight or 1:00 a.m. and called OSU campus police to report what happened.

"Our hearts go out to our families and if their is anything we can do for them, please let us know,” says Montgomery.

NTSB investigators will be back on the scene Saturday morning and hope to collect all the evidence by Saturday and further investigate it at a lab in Clinton, AR.

Aguilera says it could take three months to determine how the plane crashed.

The coroner removed the remains and sent them to the Arkansas State Crime Lab.

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