The plane crash that killed former Super Bowl champion tight end Russ Francis and another man was caused by a power loss in the aircraft's engine, the Adirondack Daily Enterprise reports.
National Transportation Safety Board investigator Todd Gunther revealed the new details during a press conference held on Tuesday (October 3), two days after Francis, 70, and Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association's Senior Vice President Richard McSpadden, 63, were killed in the crash. A separate aircraft carrying a photographer for McSpadden's AOPA magazine that planned a scenic photoshoot of the 1976 Cessna 177RG that the two were flying took off prior to Francis and McSpadden's plane.
“The engine apparently lost power,” Gunther said via the Adirondack Daily Enterprise. “The pilot, or pilots in this case, turned back toward the runway.”
Gunther said Francis and McSpadden were trying to land in the opposite direction from takeoff when the plane struck a berm at the end of the Lake Placid Airport runway before falling 30 feet into a ravine. The crash took place shortly after takeoff and the plane was reported to be attempting to catch up to the photographer's aircraft.
“When the airplane was observed, it did not appear to be climbing very well,” Gunther said via the Adirondack Daily Enterprise.
Numerous witnesses told investigators that the pilots had notified other aviators of issues with the plane and their intention to return to the airport over the radio. The accident took place at the end of a runway at around 4:05 p.m. and resulted in several first responders and agencies responding to the scene including Lake Placid emergency services, New York State Police, Saranac Lake Volunteer Rescue Squad and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation forest rangers.
Francis was selected by the New England Patriots at No. 16 overall in the 1975 NFL Draft despite having only planed 14 collegiate games at the University of Oregon, where he also threw the javelin. The Seattle native was a two-time second-team All-Pro in 1976 and 1978, as well as a Pro Bowl selection for three consecutive seasons from 1977 to 1979.
Francis briefly retired in 1980, working for ABC Sports, before being traded to the San Francisco 49ers and joining the team in 1982, recording five receptions for 60 yards during the Niners' win over the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XIX in 1985. The tight end returned to the Patriots in 1987 and spent his final three NFL seasons with the franchise.