Plane crash in Northern NY kills 2, including former NFL player

Published: Oct. 2, 2023 at 10:38 AM EDT|Updated: Oct. 2, 2023 at 5:17 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

NORTH ELBA, N.Y. (WCAX) - Police say a former NFL player and an Air Force veteran died in a plane crash in New York’s North Country Sunday.

It happened in the town of North Elba near the Lake Placid Airport.

Newly obtained cellphone video shows the aftermath of a fatal plane crash that claimed the lives of former New England Patriots tight end Russell Francis, 70, of Hampton, New Hampshire, and Air Force veteran Richard McSpadden, 63, of Frederick, Maryland, on Sunday.

The two men took off from the Lake Placid Airport shortly after 4 p.m. Sunday and were trying to return to the airport after an emergency while in the air.

A spokesperson with the New York State Police says the Cessna 177 aircraft was yards away from the landing strip and crashed into an embankment on the northeast side of the airport, killing the two men on board.

Multiple witnesses saw the plane in the air during its final moments, including Ivonne Hanks.

“I actually heard the plane from behind and I thought it was a little too loud or it sounded kind of funny... not sure,” Hanks said.

She says she was sitting outside watching a movie when she looked up and noticed the aircraft roughly 150 feet above her.

“I just looked up and then I saw him coming this way and I follow the plane and I put my sight down back to the movie, and then the next thing I know it appeared he was coming to my left,” she said.

Hanks adds she had a bad feeling but thought nothing of it until her husband told her about the incident.

“There was a plane crash... I was like, ‘What? Honey, was that the plane I saw flying back yesterday? Because I had an eerie feeling about it,’” she said.

Aside from the plane’s low altitude, Hanks says she also thought the aircraft was making unusual noises.

“It just did not sound right to me... I said well that is loud. I can not even imitate... it was not stuttering, just a funny sound,” she said.

It’s not yet known what caused the crash. The National Traffic Safety Board says it will take some time before the investigation’s findings are released.

I also spoke with Town Supervisor Derek Doty who says the families of the two men are grieving and are in shock over what happened.

Francis, a three-time Pro Bowl selection with the New England Patriots who won a Super Bowl with the 1984 San Francisco 49ers, 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 was a Patriots first-round draft pick in 1975 and played in New England until 1980, making the franchise’s all-decade team for the 1970s and the 35th-anniversary team. He 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.”

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.