Carlson: The Oklahoma State plane crash killed her dad when she was a baby. Here's how she got to know him.
Andie Hancock has always known why she didn’t have a dad.
It wasn’t because her mom sat her down one day and explained it. There was no exact moment when she learned her dad and nine other members of the men’s basketball program at Oklahoma State were killed in a plane crash.
“It’s something I just always knew,” Hancock said. “At no point in my memory did I not understand it.”
It just was.
“Like knowing my hair was brown,” she said.
Andrea Bailey Hancock was only 72 days old when that plane went down.
All she has ever known is a world without her dad — and yet as the years have passed, she has gotten to know her dad.
Wednesday marks the 20th anniversary of the OSU plane crash. Can you believe it’s been 20 years since that fateful Saturday evening? The Cowboys had played at Colorado earlier that January day in 2001, and when the team’s traveling party returned home, split between three small planes, two made it back to Stillwater and one did not.
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The names of the 10 killed have been etched into our memories.
Kendall Durfey. Bjorn Fahlstrom. Nate Fleming. Will Hancock. Daniel Lawson. Brian Luinstra. Denver Mills. Pat Noyes. Bill Teegins. Jared Weiberg.
We vowed to never forget them, to forever honor them, to always remember the 10.
But what happens when you never knew them?
That was the case for Andie Hancock. She was barely 2 months old on the day of the crash, so she has no memories of her dad, Will, who was the publicist for the team.
She doesn’t remember him being with her right after she was born, needing extra attention from doctors after she’d entered the world with a broken collar bone. She doesn’t remember him ribbing her uncle, Nate, when he jokingly called her “Andrew” after she was born. She doesn’t remember him sitting on the couch with her, both of them looking at each other with wonder.
But she has heard the stories.
“I cherish it so much,” she said, “any information I can get on him.”
The stories about her dad have always been part of her life. Her mom, Karen, longtime women’s soccer coach at OSU, always told them. So did her dad’s family, starting with her grandparents, Bill and Nicki.
They told her about the time a young Will fell in love with Georgia Tech. No one is exactly sure why, though Bill Hancock was a longtime administrator overseeing the NCAA men’s basketball tournament and the Yellowjackets under Bobby Cremins were pretty salty when Will was young. Will became so enamored with Georgia Tech that he wanted to be called Georgia Tech.
But he couldn’t quite say it right.
“So he went around asking people to call him, ‘Georgie Tick,’” Andie said.
She heard stories about him singing in church and dressing up for musicals and playing in the marching band. She heard about times he got into trouble and about times he caused trouble. She heard all the stories from family lore.
And as she got older, she also heard about her dad from people outside the family. Sometimes, they would apologize for rambling on and taking up her time.
“No,” she would tell them, “every little detail, I really cherish because it’s the only way I can really know him.”
Five years ago, on the 15th anniversary of the plane crash, Andie wrote an essay for The O’Colly, the student newspaper at OSU. In it, she thanked the university, the community and the OSU family for still remembering the 10.
She didn’t expect anyone outside her family, much less outside Stillwater to even see it, but it drew many online comments.
One in particular stuck with her.
“I went to college with your dad,” it said. “We were in the marching band together, and we weren’t best friends or anything but we hung out. We played pickup basketball games. We talked about our favorite musical composers. We walked to the dining hall together.
“He was a really good man.”
Hancock knows that’s true even though she didn’t know her father.
“Hearing that from a perfect stranger,” she said, “ really put in perspective for me just how many lives he touched.”
Her life was changed by her dad even though he was only alive for the first 72 days of it. Sure, she is in some ways her father’s daughter. After wanting to be an engineer for a long time, she decided a few years ago that communications and writing, like her father, were her passions. She is now majoring in journalism at Northwestern University.
But her life was changed by the example he set, an example that has lived on after his death.
“He loved with his whole heart,” Hancock said.
And so she tries to follow his lead.
Doing so makes Jan. 27 difficult. Every one of those she’s ever known has been difficult, whether she was a kid back in Oklahoma or a 20-year-old off at college in Illinois. The anniversary of the crash is always tough because of how difficult it is for her mom and the rest of her family.
They mourn the man they knew.
Andie Hancock mourns a man she longs to have known.
“Memory is so important to me,” she said, “and on the milestones is when people pay attention the most. It tends to be the milestones when people reach out the most, so it’s a little less lonely.”
She never knew a world with her father, but because his memory has always been a part of her life, she can’t help but miss him.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok, and support her work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.