Sports team tragedies grip the nation, and in January of 2001, the nation mourned after a plane carrying members of the Oklahoma State University men’s basketball team perished in a snowy field in Strasburg, Colorado.
On a Saturday evening in unfavorable weather conditions, the Beechcraft Super King Air 200 twin-engine plane took off from the Jefferson County Airport, but less than 20 minutes in the air, the plane disappeared from the radar screen and was never heard from again. A few hours later, the plane’s remains were found scattered in a field.
The Cowboys had just lost a game to the University of Colorado and were heading back to Stillwater, Okla. Three planes were carrying the team, two of which were lear jets while the third, and last to take off, was the Beechcraft. Among the dead were two players, three team staffers, two members of the broadcast team, a sports information employee, the pilot and co-pilot.
The NTSB concluded the plane crashed due to pilot error, but questions still lingered. Planes of that size do not carry flight-data recorders. The plane suffered an electrical failure once it reached its flying altitude of 23,000 feet, and was flying through moisture in freezing temperature above the Colorado sky. Some experts speculated if the plane flew through air moisture without electrical power, the deicers on the plane’s wings and tail might not have been working to help prevent any ice build up. We are skeptical of the official evaluation, if only because it is convenient to NTSB.
One of the passengers killed in the crash was well-known Oklahoma sports broadcaster Bill Teegins. The Cowboys radio voice, Teegins was not scheduled to be on the plane. His radio on-air partner Tom Dirato was slated on the third plane but was complaining of back problems before the flight. Teegins gave up his comfortable seat on one of the Lear jets and switched with Dirato.
The tragedy raised several questions about travel arrangements for collegiate sports. The flights were sponsored by OSU athletic boosters and not the university or NCAA. The school established a new policy to always use one plane for flying the team and avoid private chartered aircraft.
Two memorials were subsequently established to honor the victims of the crash, one in Stillwater and the other at the site of the crash in Colorado.