The tragedy involving Oklahoma State University's men's basketball team has hit mighty close to home.
Two of the 10 people killed in Saturday's plane crash 20 miles south of Denver, Will Hancock and Brian Luinstra, were Kansas University graduates who left behind a lot of friends on Mount Oread.
"It was a crusher last night to hear the news," Kansas associate athletics director Richard Konzem said Sunday at Allen Fieldhouse. "Any time something like this happens it's very, very difficult. It's tragic. To know people on the plane, it's devastating," a solemn Konzem added.
Also a bit eerie to think just five days prior to the crash of OSU's private 11-seat Beechcraft King Air plane, KU's team had also flown a charter out of Colorado after the Jayhawks' win against the Buffaloes in Boulder.
"Same airport. Same runway. Same situation," Konzem said of Jefferson County Airport in the city of Byers.
One major difference.
The Jayhawks were flying in good weather on a much bigger plane a 30-seater owned by United Express.
"We've kind of gone to flying 30-passenger planes," Konzem said. "The United Express (jet) was taken out of service a day (from its regular routes). It's the kind of plane that flies from Kansas City to Omaha.
"If at all possible, we fly the bigger planes. We've had players not get comfortable flying on 19-passenger planes so we are in a situation now we try to only charter 30-passenger planes and above."
The Jayhawks it might come as a surprise rarely fly charter as they did to Colorado last week.
"Every chance we can, we fly commercial," Konzem said. "The only time we don't is when it impacts our classroom situation where we'd miss another day of class being on the road.
"For instance, we fly charter after some Big Monday games so our kids can get home at 2 a.m. for class the morning after the game."
The Jayhawks this season flew commercial to Wake Forest on Wednesday, Dec. 6, for a game Thursday, Dec. 7. KU's traveling party returned home after the game on a 50-seat charter so the players could be back for class the next day.
KU will charter 30-seat planes for upcoming trips to Ames, Iowa and Waco, Tex.
The rest of the flights this year are commercial flights, which are much cheaper than flying charter. Konzem said the cost of the charter to Colorado was $18,000. It would have cost KU's traveling party of 25 to 27 individuals between $200 and $300 per ticket to fly commercial for an estimated total cost of about $8,000.
"We are not a school to go to three smaller planes," Konzem said.
Oklahoma State used its three university planes to transport players from Colorado to Stillwater, Okla., after Saturday's game against CU. The third of three planes went down.
"The smallest we've been flying is the 19 (seater), now the 30s or 50s," Konzem noted.
On occasion, a player or members of KU's support staff might fly to games on one of KU's two university planes.
The university owns a 10-seat Cessna Citation Jet (eight passengers, two pilots) and eight-seat Beechcraft King Air, a smaller version of the OSU plane that crashed.
"We don't use them for team travel. We use it to supplement some staff going out," Konzem said. "Occasionally we utilize the (university) jet to bring a player or two to a game like the Great Eight (in Chicago). One of our kids had a test one year and we flew him there on the KU jet on the day of the game. I think in all my years here we've done it two or three times," Konzem added.
The Jayhawks will board a bus for Columbia, Mo., late this morning for tonight's game.
KU also buses to places such as Manhattan and Lincoln, Neb.
"The toss-up trip for us is Iowa State. It's a long bus ride. We've chartered it on occasion," Konzem said.
Last year, the Jayhawks flew a 19-seat aircraft to Ames, Iowa.
A problem ensued on the return trip on a bitterly cold night.
"There was a dead battery. It wouldn't start. It was simple as that," Konzem said of the 19-seater. "We ferried three times on the KU jet when the plane wouldn't start."
Several other KU teams also take some charters to games to avoid missing an extra day of class time that would be involved in flying commercial.
KU's volleyball team chartered a 19-set plane to all of its Wednesday Big 12 games in Texas last season because of class-time concerns.
KU's players and coaches had a harrowing flight on the final flight of the year a return trip from Austin, Tex.
The plane took off in a rainstorm.
"We got caught in weather," KU coach Ray Bechard said. "The plane bounced us around quite a bit. The first 30 minutes were really tough. We dipped a good dip. The plane really dropped on us.
"When it's a smaller plane it magnifies everything. Some of the kids were crying, some were laughing, some were praying, some were getting sick."
Bechard, who was sitting by the pilots, told his players everything would be OK.
"They went about their business with no stress or anxiety," Bechard said of the pilots. "There's was plenty of that on the plane. I had that feeling we were OK and tried to convey that to them."
The plane had to re-fuel as scheduled in Tulsa, Okla.
"I had to give everybody a pep talk to get back on the plane," Bechard said. "The next trip we went to Norman, Okla., they were happy as heck to get on a bus for 5 1/2 hours."
Bechard said the Jayhawks would continue to fly charters to games in Texas next season. "Our schedule will mandate it," he said. "No way can we afford to take that much time off in the classroom."
Oklahoma State has scheduled a memorial service Wednesday to honor the victims of the plane crash in Colorado. The service is scheduled at 3 p.m. in Gallagher-Iba Arena. Doors open at 2 p.m. The public is invited.
KU assistant sports information director Mitch Germann said members of the sports information staffs of KU and Missouri will wear ribbons with Oklahoma State's colors at tonight's KU-MU game.
Germann said sports information directors in the league are talking about setting up a scholarship fund for a student-intern in OSU's sports information department in honor of Hancock, OSU media relations coordinator who worked in KU's sports information office for four years.
"He was a kindhearted gentle individual," KU assistant athletics director Doug Vance said of Hancock. "This is very tough. We'll miss him a lot."
Germann knew former KU student athletic trainer Luinstra when Luinstra worked at Wichita State.
"He was Wichita State's trainer when I was in graduate school there. We played on the same intramural basketball team," Germann said. "He was a great guy, very outgoing, really well-liked. He was well respected in the athletic department and very excited to be at Oklahoma State."