By SEAN MURPHY
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - The plane involved in the crash that killed Oklahoma State women's basketball coach Kurt Budke and three others banked to the right and disappeared from radar before its nose dipped sharply, according to a preliminary federal report released Monday.
The report by the National Transportation Safety Board cites witnesses who saw the single-engine plane flying at a low altitude and making turns before its nose dipped and the plane crashed into a heavily wooded area of the Ouachita National Forest on Nov. 17 near Perryville, Ark. The crash killed Budke, assistant coach Miranda Serna, pilot Olin Branstetter and his wife, Paula.
Budke and Serna were on a recruiting trip to Little Rock when the plane crashed about 4:10 p.m. The plane landed in Stillwater about 1:45 p.m., picked up two passengers, and departed about 2:15 p.m. for North Little Rock Municipal Airport, the report states.
Branstetter, 82, had not filed a flight plan and had no communications with air traffic control during the flight, neither of which is uncommon, said NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson.
The plane was traveling toward the southeast at about 7,000 feet when it banked to the right, began descending and disappeared from radar.
"Witnesses who were in the vicinity of the accident site reported that the airplane was flying at a low altitude and making turns," the report states. "They then observed the airplane enter a steep nose-low attitude prior to descending toward the terrain."
A review of the accident site indicates the plane's right wing likely hit the ground first, and most of the wreckage was contained in a crater about 3 feet deep and 10 feet in diameter, according to the report. Evidence of the plane's impact on the ground and on trees surrounding the accident site suggests the nose of the plane was at a steep downward angle at the time of the crash, the report states.
Experts now will sift through the wreckage to determine if there is evidence of a mechanical failure before the crash, Knudson said.
"The purpose of the preliminary report is to put the accident on record and document the facts as we know them in this very early phase of the investigation," Knudson said. "We're not doing analysis at this point, and there's still a lot of work yet to do."
The next phase of the investigation will involve the release of a more extensive factual report, which generally takes between six and 12 months. That report will include an analysis of records of the pilot and the plane, as well as a detailed look at what the pilot was doing for 72 hours before the flight, Knudson said.
National Transportation Safety Board, www.ntsb.gov
Sean Murphy can be reached at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy