Remembering the 10: Coach Kyle Keller recalls the OSU plane crash 17 years later
NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - For 16 years, SFA Head Basketball Coach Kyle Keller walked around smiling on the outside but feeling guilty on the inside.
"I can still to this day still see all 10 of those men either in their window or the cockpit," Keller said.
On January 27, 2001, a plane carrying part of the Oklahoma State Basketball program crashed in Colorado during a snow storm. Keller was an assistant coach at the time for the team.
"I was supposed to scout the next game so Coach Sutton asked me to switch to a faster plane," Keller said. "I did what you always do when coach asked something and that was to do it. We got to the airport and I lined everyone up for their planes and my planes was late. I loaded up the plane I was supposed to be on and then waited for the plane for my group."
The King Air 200 that never made it home. 10 people died including Nate Fleming, a walk-on player and cousin of Keller. Fleming was only on the plane after switching seats with Keller, As early reports came out, it appeared to family and friends that Keller had died based on the manifest.
"On the drive home from the airport, my parents were calling I finally answered the phone and they were crying and their first response was , 'You're Alive!' and I'm like 'Of course, why wouldn't I be alive?' They said they had a report from KASU out of Denver that our plane went down and all 10 men are dead."
The reality set in on what switching planes did to his family.
"I was scared to death not knowing how they were going to react to me," Keller said. "How they are going to feel? What they might say? How do you tell your aunt and uncle that they lost their only son, who in our family we call "Goodie" because he never got anything lower than an A and all he wanted to do was play for me? I walked in the door just feeling shame, guilt, bitterness and I got a good reception but to walk in and see my uncle Zane laying on the bed in a fetal position sobbing just the most difficult experience I wouldn't wish on anybody. "
For 10 years Keller remained silent.
"I wasn't going to talk. It wasn't my story to tell. It was the Fleming's and they could tell it," Keller said.
It was another six before he let go of the guilt he carried deep inside.
"It was about 6 months ago and I was at church and my pastor was praying over me and I just discovered this guilt that I did not know I had. The real tragedy of this plane crash with me and my family was that if I did not have the best relationship with my aunt and uncle and his family. They can't love me anymore than they do. I don't deserve that but I had to accept that. Maybe I am the real loser in this one because now I am down here and they get to be in Heaven.
There is not a day that goes by where he ignores the memory of the 10 and That will include this weekend when SFA plays Sam Houston.
"I didn't get much sleep the other day and I was thinking about our next game against UCA," Keller said. "I left the house for work and I texted my wife and said, 'Babe I am not comfortable with any of the ties I have for Saturday so I said can you find me 2 or 3 with purple and orange that I can wear.' She goes, 'You cant war orange Its Sam Houston.' I said 'I think they will understand.' I hope they do because it is bigger than Sam Houston."
It is Keller's hope that the memory of the 10 will never fade.
"I sit here with tears running down my cheek, it is not for guilt.," Keller said. "It is for happiness and joy. I want everyone to remember those 10 men because they are so special."
Below is the entire raw interview with Keller:
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