LAKE PLACID, N.Y. (AP) — Former NFL tight end Russ Francis, a three-time Pro Bowl selection with the New England Patriots who won a Super Bowl with the 1984 San Francisco 49ers, was killed along with another aviation enthusiast when the single-engine plane the two men were in crashed shortly after takeoff from an airport in upstate New York, authorities said Monday.
Francis, 70, and Richard McSpadden, 63, had taken off from the Lake Placid Airport shortly after 4 p.m. Sunday in a Cessna 177 plane when the plane had some kind of problem. The New York State Police said it crashed into an embankment at the corner of the airport.
Francis was president of Lake Placid Airways, which runs charter and scenic flights. A longtime flying enthusiast, the airline’s website said he had been a pilot for almost 50 years, and had run a charter service in Hawaii. McSpadden was a senior vice president at the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, which advocates around general aviation, and was known as an aviation safety expert. The organization said his career included a stint as commander of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds.
Francis was a Patriots first-round draft pick in 1975 and played in New England until 1980, making the franchise’s all-decade team for the 1970s and the 35th anniversary team. He was named to the Pro Bowl three straight seasons from 1977-79.
“Russ was a fan favorite throughout his playing career,” Patriots owner Robert Kraft said in a statement. “He was a dynamic player on the field who had an even bigger personality off it. He knew no boundaries, pushed the limits and lived his life to the fullest.”
Francis joined the San Francisco 49ers in 1982 and was part of the 1984 team that beat Miami in the Super Bowl. He returned to New England in 1987 and retired the year after. In all, he had 393 receptions for 5,262 yards and 40 touchdowns.
The crash is under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.