Russ Francis, a former Kailua High School athlete who went on to star in the NFL and win a Super Bowl with the San Francisco 49ers, was killed in an airplane crash Sunday, according to the Lake Placid News. He was 70 years old.
Lakeplacidnews.com reported that the two people killed in an airplane crash at the Lake Placid Airport on Sunday were identified as Francis, a former NFL tight end who recently purchased the Lake Placid Airways scenic tour business at the airport, and Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s Senior Vice President Richard McSpadden, 63.
Francis and McSpadden 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.
A longtime flying enthusiast, Francis had been a pilot for almost 50 years, and had run a charter service in Hawaii, according to tour company’s website. McSpadden’s career included a stint as commander of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds.
Francis, who was called “All World” tight end by legendary sportscaster Howard Cosell, grew up wanting to fly, and he spent his life in the sky.
He was a first-round pick of the New England Patriots out of Oregon in 1975.
Francis spent 14 years in the NFL and played in three Pro Bowls. He also was selected to the All-NFL team in 1976, 1977, 1978 and 1980.
Francis made the Patriots’ all-decade team for the 1970s and the 35th anniversary team.
“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.
After his NFL career, Francis was a sportscaster in Hawaii and for ABC, CBS and ESPN after his NFL career. He is a member of the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame.
The NFL star also dabbled in Hawaii politics, losing elections for the Honolulu City Council in 1996 and for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2000 when he ran as a Republican against incumbent Democrat Rep. Patsy Mink.
The crash is under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.