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Former 49er Tight End Russ Francis Dies in Plane Crash



Russ Francis, a star NFL tight end in the 1970s and 1980s, died Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023 in a plane crash in upstate New York. (GV Wire Composite/Paul Marshall)
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LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — 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. The organization said his career included a stint as commander of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds.

Francis Helped 49ers Win Super Bowl

Francis was a Patriots first-round draft pick in 1975 out of the University Oregon. He played in New England until 1980, making the franchise’s all-decade team for the 1970s and the 35th anniversary team. A strong blocker, as well as a standout receiver who was hard to bring down, the 6-foot-6, 240-pounder 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.”

After announcing his retirement and sitting out the 1981 season, 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 again the year after. In all, he had 393 receptions for 5,262 yards and 40 touchdowns over 13 seasons.

His NFL postseason totals: nine games, 35 receptions, 474 yards, and three TDs.

A Passion for Flying

After leaving football, Francis explored his passion for aviation and recently bought Lake Placid Airways. The Boston Globe reports that FAA records show that he was authorized to fly single- and multi-engine planes and helicopters.

“My older brother Russ Francis was just killed in an airplane crash in Lake Placid, New York,” Francis’ brother Ed Francis wrote on Facebook on Sunday. “Flying was my brother’s lifelong passion, and perhaps a fitting way for him to go. God speed to you my big brother!!”

The crash is under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.

(GV Wire contributed to this article.)

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