Former NFL star Russ Francis perished in a plane crash Sunday that also killed aviation safety expert Richard McSpadden, Fox News reported. The aircraft met its demise after experiencing difficulties shortly after takeoff.
The Cessna 177 crashed as it attempted to return to the airport after the single-engine plane "experienced an emergency," a statement from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association said. Francis was reportedly flying the plane at the time of the crash.
There's no word on what the nature of the emergency was, but the National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the cause of the crash. Both men on board were experienced pilots.
McSpadden, 63, was the senior vice president of the AOPA and was commander of U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds during his time in the military. Francis, 70, was also a pilot with a passion for flying and 50 years of experience.
"My older brother Russ Francis was just killed in an airplane crash in Lake Placid, New York," his younger brother, Ed, wrote, according to the Boston Herald. "Flying was my brother’s lifelong passion, and perhaps a fitting way for him to go. Godspeed to you, my big brother!!"
The former tight end was the president of Lake Placid Airways, which operates out of upstate New York to provide scenic and charter flights in the area. Francis previously did the same work in Hawaii in the years since ending his NFL career.
Prior to taking to the skies as his day job, Francis made a name for himself on the football field as a Super Bowl champion with the San Francisco 49ers. He began his career with the New England Patriots and was a first-round draft pick in 1975.
Francis was with the team until 1980 and was voted to the Pro Bowl three seasons in a row beginning in 1977. He was remembered fondly by Patriots owner Robert Kraft in a statement Monday.
"Russ was a fan favorite throughout his playing career," Kraft said. "He was a dynamic player on the field who had an even bigger personality off it," he added.
"He knew no boundaries, pushed the limits, and lived his life to the fullest," Kraft said. Francis left the Patriots when he retired from football in 1981 but returned the next year to play for the 49ers.
In the '83-'84 season, Francis helped the 49ers during the wild-card playoffs, completing a key touchdown catch against the New York Giants. The 49ers would go on to win the Super Bowl that year against the Miami Dolphins in a 38-6 victory.
Francis added to the score with a touchdown catch in that game. In all, he had 60 yards with five catches in that blowout championship win against the Dolphins.
In 1987, Francis returned to the Patriots mid-season, where he would finish out his football career. Francis ended his NFL tenure with a respectable 40 touchdowns with 393 receptions for a total of 5,262 career yards, ESPN reported.
This crash tragically took the lives of two men, including one NFL star. However, it's a small consolation that they died doing the thing they loved best.