The plane crash that killed former NFL tight end Russ Francis and another man at an airport in New York state occurred after the craft’s engine apparently lost power, a federal investigator said on Tuesday.
Francis, 70, and Richard McSpadden, 63, had taken off from the Lake Placid Airport on Sunday afternoon in a single-engine Cessna 177 when the plane encountered trouble. The plane, which has two steering columns, had turned around in an attempt to land, officials said.
“The engine apparently lost power,” National Transportation Safety Board investigator Todd Gunther said at a briefing on Tuesday. “The pilot, or pilots in this case, turned back toward the runway.”
Gunther said the plane hit a berm at the end of the runway and fell about 30ft into a ravine, according to the Adirondack Daily Enterprise.
Multiple witnesses told investigators that the pilots called over the radio to say they had a problem and were returning to the airport, Gunther said.
Two planes were involved in a planned scenic photo shoot of the 1976 Cessna that Francis and McSpadden were flying. The photographer’s plane took off first, followed by the Cessna, according to the newspaper.
Francis was a Patriots first-round draft pick in 1975 and played in New England until 1980. He was named to the Pro Bowl in three straight seasons from 1977 to 1979. He 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.
Francis was a veteran pilot and president of Lake Placid Airways, which runs charter and scenic flights.
“We are deeply saddened by the sudden and tragic loss of former New England Patriots tight end Russ Francis. Our condolences are extended to Francis’ family and friends,” said the Patriots in a statement on social media.
As well as his interest in aviation, Francis had spells as a professional wrestler and ran unsuccessfully for Congress in Hawaii in the early 2000s.
Gunther said the investigative team will be working in Lake Placid until Friday as they gather material for a preliminary report on the crash. A subsequent final factual report will include analysis and a probable cause for the crash.