Three University of Oklahoma meteorology students killed in their SUV’s crash with a tractor-trailer were returning from chasing a tornado in Kansas, authorities said.
Nicholas Nair, 20; Gavin Short, 19; and Drake Brooks, 22, had followed a tornado near Herrington, Kansas, and were returning to their school in Norman, Oklahoma, Friday night when their Volkswagen Tiguan SUV hydroplaned on rainy Interstate 35, skidded into the outside lane and stopped, according to the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety.
An oncoming tractor-trailer slammed into their vehicle, pinning the three students inside the wreckage for more than five hours, police said. They were declared dead at the scene, in Tonkawa, near the Kansas border, once rescue crews extricated them. The tractor-trailer driver was treated at a hospital and released.
Short and Nair had posted videos to social media of the tornado they were monitoring just hours before the crash.
“Storm chasing was his passion,” Nair’s mother, Kate Nair, told WFAA-TV in Carrollton, Texas, where his family lives. “Broadcasting was his passion.”
Nair’s brother, Keane, spoke to his brother by phone before the crash and heard his excitement after the three had seen their first tornado as a group.
“They were like, this is a huge milestone for them,” Keane Nair told WFAA. “He was just happy. That’s the best way God could have received him.”
At the University of Oklahoma, the three students were remembered for their devotion to meterology.
“Their pursuit of that calling is admirable and serves as an inspiration to us all,” university President Joseph Harroz, Jr. said in a statement. “We are immensely grateful for their lives and the impact each of them had.”
The National Weather Service in Norman dedicated a weather balloon to the students on Saturday.
On this very sad day in the Norman weather community, our evening weather balloon launch is dedicated to Nic, Drake and Gavin – OU meteorology students who died in a tragic traffic accident last night. pic.twitter.com/49q2eepp8l
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