The Oklahoma State University women's basketball coach Kurt Budke and his assistant, Miranda Serna, died on Thursday when a single-engine plane they were traveling in spiraled out of control and took a nosedive in a forest in Arkansas.

The university announced their death on Friday, stating the plane was transporting them on a recruiting trip when the accident happened in the Winona Wildlife Management Area near Perryville, which is about 45 miles west of Little Rock.

Perry County Sheriff Scott Montgomery told The Associated Press that hunters called emergency officials around 4 p.m. on Thursday after hearing the plane in trouble and seeing it nosedive into a heavily wooded area.

The plane was spitting and sputtering and then it spiraled and went nose first into the ground, Montgomery told The AP. It went straight into the side of the hill.

The pilot, former Oklahoma state Sen. Olin Branstetter, 82, and his wife, Paula, 79, also died in the accident.

The Oklahoma State family is devastated by this tragedy, University President Burns Hargis said in a statement. 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. He was an outstanding coach and a wonderful person.

Hargis said Budke elevated the school's women's basketball program to new levels of success and that his staff raised the school's profile in the nation's toughest conference. 

Budke is survived by his wife, Shelley, and their children, Sara, Alex and Brett.

Miranda was an up-and-coming coach and an outstanding role model for our young ladies, Hargis said.

According to The AP, the crash is the second major tragedy for the sports program in about a decade; in January 2001, 10 men associated with the university's men's basketball team died in a Colorado plane crash.

After the 2001 crash happened, the university required that planes used by the school's sports team go through safety checks before travel, The AP reported.

Hargis told The AP that coaches weren't bound by the same rules and that the school left that kind of decision up to the coaches' discretion.

We are shocked by this terrible loss, said Mike Holder, the university's vice president for athletics in a statement. Kurt Budke was an incredibly positive influence on his players and was a tremendous coach.  He quickly turned our program around and put Cowgirl basketball on the map. Miranda was a tireless worker and great recruiter.

Budke was in his seventh season as Cowgirl coach, with an all-time record of 112-83, the university said. Under his direction, Oklahoma State University made postseason appearances each of the past five seasons, including three trips to the NCAA tournament, the university also stated.
 
In the 2009-10 season, the Cowgirls won 24 games to include a school-record six victories against Top 25 teams; achieved a top-10 national ranking for the first time ever; and reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
 
The university also said Budke transformed a program that endured a winless conference season in 2005-06 into a league title contender and NCAA Sweet 16 participant two years later.
 
Prior to working for Oklahoma State University in 2005, Budke was a head coach for 12 seasons at Allen County Community College, Trinity Valley Community College and Louisiana Tech.

His career record as a head coach was 465-130. Budke coaching career started in 1984 as a graduate assistant at Washburn University before he took an assistant coaching position at Friends University.

Serna was in her seventh season as an assistant coach at Oklahoma State University. She previously worked in the same capacity at Louisiana Tech under Budke. She also helped guide the resurgence of Oklahoma State University women's basketball as the program's recruiting coordinator.

Holder said Jim Littell, associate head coach, will assume duties as interim head coach.

The university has also announced that the Cowgirls will not play games scheduled Saturday and Sunday.

The National Transportation Safety Board has told The AP that 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, The AP reported.