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Pilot in Okla. State crash known as gracious in church, able in flight

OKLAHOMA CITY (BP)–Denver and Lindell Mills received an 11th-hour call from their Oklahoma City church during the week of Jan. 22 asking if they could host a Disciple Now group of a dozen 11th-graders over the weekend. Although the couple had just three days to prepare for a house full of teens, they were more than happy to oblige.

“Denver said, ‘Absolutely. I’ll be gone with the Oklahoma State basketball team, but I’ll be back Saturday night, and I really want those teenagers at our house,” Mark Hartman, pastor of Council Road Baptist Church, recounted. “They were just so gracious. That’s the kind of heart Denver had.”

Mills, an Oklahoma City native who would have celebrated his 56th birthday Jan. 31, never made it home to fellowship with the youth. He was piloting a Beechcraft Super King Air 200 when it crashed Jan. 27, killing him and nine other members of an Oklahoma State University entourage who had attended the Cowboys’ basketball game at the University of Colorado earlier in the day.

Mills leaves behind his wife and three children, son David, 21, a student at Oklahoma State University, and daughters Kathryn Wilson and Debra Mills. A void in Mills’ church, meanwhile, will be in its children’s outreach. “Denver enjoyed serving in the extended session,” Hartman said. “He really found his ministry in ministering to preschoolers.”

OSU basketball coach Eddie Sutton said in a taped interview for his weekly radio show, his first public statement since the Saturday crash, “I’ve logged probably thousands and thousands of miles at Arkansas and Kentucky and OSU, and if there was a pilot I would choose to fly me anywhere, it would be Denver Mills.

“He was the most cautious, safest pilot I’ve ever been around.”

Among those who died were players Daniel Lawson and Nate Fleming; play-by-play voice Bill Teegins; associate sports information director Will Hancock; OSU administrative assistant Pat Noyes; student manager Mick Weiberg; OSU radio producer Kendall Carlton Durfey; athletic trainer Brian Luinstra; and copilot Bjorn Fahlstrom.

“There is a deep grief,” Hartman said. “There is a considerable amount of pain for us, in the tragedy itself and then with the connection to Denver. I would say that hundreds of members have flooded through the [Mills’] house to express love and concern for Lindell and the kids.”

Sutton has received support, also, including a flood of calls from fellow coaches, Arkansas’ Nolan Richardson, Illinois’ Bill Self, Oklahoma’s Kelvin Sampson, Texas’ Rich Barnes, Purdue’s Gene Keady and Texas Tech’s James Dickey, among others.

Sutton told the Daily Oklahoman newspaper he will resume practice on Tuesday, Jan. 30. A memorial service is scheduled for 3 p.m. Wednesday at Gallagher-Iba Arena, which will also host OSU’s next game, Saturday’s match-up against Missouri.

“I don’t think they taught me this in Coaching 101, on how to handle the situation we’ve had,” Sutton said during his weekly radio program. “Everyone on that plane was a quality human being and certainly a friend. Not only the two players, Nate and Dan, they are family. But all those other people are family, too. Pat was like a child to me, been with me a long time.

“It’s been one of the most difficult things. The thing I’ve tried to do with our team and the people who are so involved, we better go on. The one thing I think it teaches all of us is that life is precious and we better live each day to the best of our ability and appreciate what God has given us.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: DENVER MILLS. Low res photo only.

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  • Ashley Michael