July 16, 2024

Russ Francis, who played a total of eight seasons with the New England Patriots, died Sunday in a plane crash outside of Lake Placid, New York, the team confirmed Monday.

The 70-year-old Francis was a passenger on an aircraft that was piloted by Richard McSpadden, a former commander with the Air Force Thunderbirds, according to the Lake Placid News. The outlet reports that the crash of the Cessna 177 Cardinal occurred around 4:09 p.m. on Sunday at the end of a runway at the Lake Placid Airport.

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Associated (AOPA) said in a statement that McFadden was in the pilot’s seat when the aircraft “experienced an emergency after takeoff.”

“The airplane attempted to return to the airport but failed to make the runway. Both occupants lost their lives,” the AOPA wrote.

The AOPA, of which McSpadden was a senior vice president, described McSpadden as “a very accomplished pilot.”

Francis was the president of the scenic tour company Lake Placid Airways, which he recently purchased. The company noted that Francis has been a pilot himself for 49 years, has owned an air charter company in Hawaii and also “owned and piloted his P-51 Mustang and Hawker Sea Fury British fighter.”

“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 chairman 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.”

Francis was drafted by the Patriots in the first round of the 1975 NFL Draft out of Oregon. Francis placed his first six seasons in New England before going on to join the San Francisco 49ers. Francis went on to win a championship in Super Bowl XIX during his time in San Francisco.

The former tight end finished his NFL career with a three-year stint back in New England. He was a three-time Pro Bowler and a two-time second-team All-Pro selection. Francis finished his career with 393 receptions for 5,262 yards and 40 touchdowns. He remains third in Patriots history in touchdowns and receiving yards among tight ends, trailing only Rob Gronkowski and Ben Coates.

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