Two killed in Lake Placid airplane crash identified
Exact cause still unknown
LAKE PLACID — The two people killed in an airplane crash at the Lake Placid Airport on Sunday have been identified as Russ Francis, a former NFL tight end who recently purchased the Lake Placid Airways scenic tour business at the airport and Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s Senior Vice President Richard McSpadden.
The crash happened around 4:09 p.m. at the end of a runway, close to the North Elba Athletic Fields. Lake Placid emergency services, New York State Police, Saranac Lake Volunteer Rescue Squad and state Department of Environmental Conservation forest rangers responded.
Francis grew up wanting to fly, and he spent his life in the sky. He was 70.
Nearly everything he did in life was in service of getting more air time — from sleeping in a cot in the back of a hangar, to joining the NFL as a tight end for the New England Patriots having only played football for a year of his life.
He recalled clearly his first day in flight in 1974 to News reporter Sydney Emerson in late August, around one month before his death.
The Lake Placid Airport is owned by the town of North Elba.
“Russ Francis and I became close friends right away,” North Elba Town Supervisor Derek Doty told the News. “His energy was infectious and was so excited to be an integral part of our community. A terrible tragedy. I will delay any further comments until after consoling his family.”
McSpadden was beloved in the aviation community. On Sunday evening, many gathered in comment sections below industry reports of his death to say they always looked forward to his writing.
“Our thoughts are with Richard’s family at this time,” AOPA wrote in a post on its website.
AOPA identified the plane they were in as a Cessna 177 Cardinal, adding that McSpadden was in the right seat at the time and that the plane “experienced an emergency after takeoff.”
“The airplane attempted to return to the airport but failed to make the runway,” the statement reads. “Both occupants lost their lives.”
The organization said McSpadden is survived by his wife, Judy; his son, Grant; and his daughter, Annabel.
“Richard was a very accomplished pilot, including serving as commander of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds during his military career, and a trusted colleague, friend, son, husband and father,” the statement reads.
Dozens of emergency personnel were at the scene on Sunday. The plane was sideways, down near the bottom of an embankment at the end of the runway, visible from Recycle Circle Road.
Several gliders were still in the air above the airfield after the crash, and they were directed to land elsewhere at the airport.
The airfield was classified as a crime scene and closed to the public around 5 p.m. as emergency workers began to retrieve the plane from the gully.
New York State Police Troop B spokeswoman Brandi Ashley said troopers are investigating a small private plane crash at the airport, but she could not say much more by press time Sunday since the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Traffic Safety Board are getting involved in the investigation.
She said more information from State Police should be available Monday.
There have been at least 17 airplane crashes in Lake Placid since 1962, the most recent in 2014, according to National Transportation Safety Board records and past articles in the News and the Adirondack Daily Enterprise.
Lake Placid Airways, formerly known as the Adirondack Flying Service, operates a flight service at the Lake Placid Airport. It was transferred to new ownership this year after nearly 50 years under Steve Short, who took over the airport after his father, the previous owner, suffered an aneurysm in 1974. Al Furnia started the Adirondack Flying Service; Steve Short’s father took over from Furnia after Furnia got cancer.
Francis was the new owner of Lake Placid Airways alongside Rives Potts, 74. Francis was a first-round NFL draft pick with a 1985 Super Bowl ring and three selections to the Pro Bowl. As of August, Short was still employed by Lake Placid Airways as the chief pilot and director of operations.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise Managing Editor Elizabeth Izzo contributed reporting. This is a breaking news story. More details will be added as they become available.