Feds give more details on fatal plane crash in Lake Placid
Exact cause still unknown
LAKE PLACID — Federal authorities have released more details of their investigations into a fatal plane crash at the Lake Placid Airport on Sunday, including that the crash happened shortly after takeoff after “a hard roll to the left.” But the exact cause of the crash is still unknown, as the investigations are in preliminary stages.
The two people killed in the crash 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 — both seasoned pilots.
The crash happened around 4:05 p.m. at the end of a runway, close to the North Elba Athletic Fields.
The National Traffic Safety Board is leading the investigation, and the Federal Aviation Administration issued a brief incident report on Monday.
“Aircraft crashed under unknown circumstances short of the runway,” according to the report.
According to the AOPA, the plane “experienced an emergency after takeoff.”
McSpadden was in the right seat — the passenger seat — according to the AOPA.
“The airplane attempted to return to the airport but failed to make the runway,” the statement reads. “Both occupants lost their lives.”
Essex County Coroner Jay Heald said autopsies were being conducted Monday morning but deferred to New York State Police Troob B spokespersons for further comment.
The plane’s “N-Number” registration was released by the FAA on Monday. This identified that the plane they were in was a a fixed wing single-engine Cessna 177 Cardinal owned by Lake Placid Flying Service Inc. It had a valid certificate of inspection issued in 1990 which lasted through 2029.
NTSB spokesperson Keith Holloway said an NTSB investigator was expected arrive on scene Monday. This investigator will document the scene; examine the aircraft; try to contact any witnesses; and request air traffic communications, radar data, weather reports, maintenance records of the aircraft, and medical records and flight history of the pilot.
It is very early in the investigation, but based on preliminary information, Holloway said around 4:05 p.m., the Cessna impacted terrain under “unknown circumstances” after a “hard roll to the left shortly after takeoff” from KLKP airport.
“It is important to note that NTSB does not determine cause in the early part of the investigative process,” Holloway wrote. “This is considered the fact gathering phase of the investigation.”
He said a preliminary report may be available in about 10 to 12 business days and a typical NTSB investigation can take 12 to 24 months to complete and determine cause.
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.
Lake Placid emergency services, New York State Police, Saranac Lake Volunteer Rescue Squad and state Department of Environmental Conservation forest rangers responded.
New York State Police Troop B spokeswoman Brandi Ashley said NYSP should release more information today.
Living to fly
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.”
Aviation community leader
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is a nonprofit organization which advocates for general aviation.
“Our thoughts are with Richard’s family at this time,” AOPA wrote in a post on its website.
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.
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.
“This is like losing a friend,” a user named Kit Farwell wrote beneath an article on AVweb. “Even if we only knew him from his columns, we felt like we knew him. He will be missed.”
McSpadden was dedicated to aircraft safety. He wrote many reports on crashes, which served as guides to others on how to avoid tragedy. His death in an airplane crash struck to the heart of the aviation enthusiasts who followed his work.
A common threat in the comments was acknowledging the danger of their hobby. Some said McSpadden’s death is making them reconsidered it.
“I usually take crash reports analytically and try to learn from them. Having seen Richard speak in person several times this is different,” a user named only “Kurt” wrote beneath an article on AVweb. “Makes me rethink my 20(-plus) years of flying and whether to continue.”
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 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.
In August, Francis said he bought the business because he wanted to make flying his job, and to live in the Adirondacks.
“We came up here and took a look and, basically, like hundreds of thousands of other people each year, we fell in love with the place,” Francis said.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise Managing Editor Elizabeth Izzo contributed reporting. This is a breaking news story. More details will be added as they become available.