I was sitting at my desk at the Tulsa World on Nov. 17, 2011, when I heard the news: Another plane carrying members of Oklahoma State University’s sports program had crashed.
No, not again, I thought. Maybe there has been a mistake.
Just 10 years earlier, a plane carrying members of the OSU men’s basketball program — two players, six members of the support staff and two pilots — had crashed in Colorado, killing all aboard.
As I had done after the 2001 plane crash, I jumped in to see how I could help report the story. While other reporters gathered details of the crash, I worked to find out more about the plane and its history.
That’s when I got the call from a longtime source in the aviation industry.
“The pilot’s name was Branstetter. Olin Branstetter. Is he any relation to your family?”
Stunned and shaken, I called my husband and let him know that his relative — a cousin of Doug’s grandfather — had been the pilot. Olin and his wife, Paula, were both killed in the crash, along with OSU’s women’s basketball coach, Kurt Budke, and assistant coach Miranda Serna.
I had met Olin just once, at a family reunion, and I enjoyed talking Oklahoma politics with the outgoing former state senator from Ponca City. He liked to tell about the time he and Paula flew across the magnetic north pole, setting an aviation record. They always kept the New Testament on the dashboard of their plane and said a prayer before embarking.
The Branstetters loved their alma mater and often volunteered to take coaches on recruiting trips. That’s what they were doing that night when the small plane nose-dived into a ridge near Little Rock.
The aftermath of that tragedy had a familiar pattern to the 2001 plane crash. Shock. Grieving. Moving displays of support by Oklahomans and people across the country. Orange and black ribbons. Moments of silence and memorial services.
Remember the 10. Remember the four.
We now have four more to keep in our thoughts and prayers, as well as more than 40 injured.
When I heard the news Saturday morning that a car had slammed into spectators watching OSU’s homecoming parade, I had the same thoughts that many Oklahomans shared: How much heartbreak can one university take? How could something this tragic happen again at OSU?
After confirmation that several people had died and dozens were injured, football seemed so insignificant.
Would they play the game? How could they? How could they not?
I’m haunted by the photo of sweet, red-headed Nash Lucas sitting in his stroller watching the parade, moments before the car crashed into the crowd.
The happy 2-year-old boy’s life ended so senselessly, before he had a chance to really live it. No one will see him graduate, get married or proudly show off his first child.
Nikita Prabhakar, a 25-year-old MBA student from the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, was also among the four dead. Photos from her Facebook account depict a vibrant young Indian woman showing off an armful of bright bangles and a blingy bindi dot on her forehead.
She’s someone’s daughter, someone’s best friend, possibly someone’s soul mate. How would she have changed the world with her MBA and drive to succeed? We’ll never know.
Bonnie and Marvin Stone, both 65 and Stillwater residents, also died in the incident, News On 6 has reported.
And who are the people, broken and clinging to life in hospital beds, in shock from Saturday’s crash? Of the 47 injured, about 17 remain hospitalized, including six in critical condition.
Will they recover? Even when they do, their lives are changed forever.
The mugshot of the driver, 25-year-old Adacia Chambers, is also profoundly sad. While details are still developing, authorities arrested her on suspicion of driving under the influence.
Her father, Floyd Chambers of Oologah, learned from social media posts that his daughter had been the driver who hit the spectators. He told reporters the timid girl he raised is nothing like the girl in the mugshot — bloodshot eyes staring vacantly at the jail camera.
How will her family cope? How will she? What if that were my child? It’s impossible to imagine what they are going through.
The final images of the day stick in my mind: students linked arm in arm at the football game, swaying solemnly back and forth. The OSU players forming a small sea of orange on the field, bent down on one knee, heads bowed while reciting the Lord’s Prayer led by Coach Mike Gundy.
As the day ended, a stunning orange sunset settled quietly over the campus, a flash of God’s beauty at the end of a painful day.
One more from Stillwater: pic.twitter.com/h8dpgw3q4H
— George Schroeder (@GeorgeSchroeder) October 25, 2015