Russ Francis, the former New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers tight end, was killed in a plane crash in Lake Placid, New York. He was 70.
According to the Lake Placid News, Francis and a companion, vice president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association Richard McSpadden, took off from Lake Placid Airport in a Cessna 177 Cardinal on Sunday afternoon. The craft then "experienced an emergency after takeoff" and crashed at the end of the runway at 4:09 p.m.
“The airplane attempted to return to the airport but failed to make the runway,” the AOPA said in a statement. “Both occupants lost their lives.”
The Lake Placid News also reported that Francis had recently purchased the Lake Placid Airways scenic tour business. Francis loved flying, and grew up wanting to be a pilot. It is unclear if he was flying the plane when it crashed, or if McSpadden was.
Francis spent 13 seasons in the NFL starting in 1975 when the Patriots drafted him with the 16th overall pick. He made an immediate impact, and by 1976 had made the first of three career Pro Bowls. He was traded to the 49ers in 1980, but decided to retire instead and took a job in broadcasting.
But he couldn't stay away. Just a year later, Francis was back in football with the 49ers, which turned out to be very important to the franchise's future. In 1984, Francis was a key part of the Niners team that won Super Bowl XIX.
Francis stayed in San Francisco until the 49ers waived him midway through the 1987 season. He then returned to the Patriots, where he played until he retired in 1989.
"On behalf of the entire New England Patriots organization, we extend our sincerest sympathies to the family of Russ Francis, who tragically passed away yesterday," Patriots owner Robert Kraft said in a statement. "Russ was a fan favorite throughout his playing career. 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. Our thoughts are with Russ's family, friends, teammates and the many Patriots fans who mourn his loss."