As first reported by the Lake Placid News, a single-engine plane carrying Francis and Richard McSpadden, senior vice president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, crashed around 4:09 p.m. ET on Sunday. The plane “experienced an emergency after takeoff,” according to an AOPA statement, and went down an embankment near the end of a runway.
“The airplane attempted to return to the airport but failed to make the runway,” the statement continued. “Both occupants lost their lives.”
Francis’ brother, Ed, also confirmed the accident on social media on Sunday.
“I just got a phone call from my sister with some devastating news,” he wrote on Facebook. “My older brother Russ Francis was just killed in an airplane crash in Lake Placid, New York. Needless to say, my family and I are completely flattened. Flying was my brother’s lifelong passion, and perhaps a fitting way for him to go. God speed to you my big brother!”
Francis, 70, played high school football in Hawaii and Oregon before a college career at the University of Oregon set him up to turn professional. He joined the NFL as a first-round draft pick by the Patriots in 1975, and went on to spend parts of eight seasons with the club in two separate stints.
In total, he appeared in 94 regular season and playoff games for the Patriots and was voted to the Pro Bowl three times. He later was named a member of the organization’s Team of the 1970s and 35th Anniversary Team.
Francis originally retired after the 1980 season and went into broadcasting, but came back to play for the San Francisco 49ers. In five-and-a-half seasons, he played in 82 games and won a Super Bowl ring. He eventually returned to New England in 1987 for the final 13 games of his career.
Francis retired after he had to miss the entire 1989 season due to injury.
After his playing days, he followed his interest in aviation. Francis purchased Lake Placid Airways, a company providing scenic flights around the area, just earlier this year.