A World War II-era fighter plane crashed into the Hudson River on Friday night, killing the pilot, according to New York authorities.
Officials said William Gordon, the 56-year-old pilot from Key West, died in the crash, the Associated Press reported.
The P-47 Thunderbolt crashed into the Hudson River near the George Washington Bridge around 7:30 p.m., according to the New York Police Department.
The vintage aircraft was scheduled to participate in the Jones Beach Air Show on Long Island this weekend, and had already flown twice Friday before the crash, ABC News reported.
The American Airpower Museum was celebrating the Thunderbolt’s 75th anniversary, and the plane had been participating in a promotional photo shoot at the time of the crash, according to the New York Times.
“Clearly we are dealing with a tragedy,” museum spokesman Gary Lewi told the Times. “It’s crushing.”
Rescue divers entered the plane after it had been secured to a harbor launch, according to New York police. They removed the 56-year-old pilot from the water, who was declared dead by emergency medical personnel.
Gordon was a “veteran airshow performer of over 25 years” and an “Aerobatic Competency Evaluator for the air show industry” who certified air show performers to executive “low level aerobatics,” reads a profile from an April Key West airshow.
He “spent many years as the Chief Pilot of Old Rhinebeck Areodrome in upstate New York” and “has many hours in very unstable WWII aircraft,” according to NAS Key West. “[Gordon] will be flying for American Airpower Museum next year doing Aerobatic displays with the Corsair and the P-40 as well as the P-47 and TBM Avenger.”
It’s not yet clear what downed the P-47 on Friday. Authorities will likely lift the vintage plane out of the water Saturday and launch an investigation into the cause of the crash, AP reported.
A New York Fire Department boat searches the Hudson River. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)
Dozens of people witnessed the plane crash. Diners at Waterside Restaurant in North Bergen, N.J., told NBC New York they saw the plane attempting to land and then dive nose first into the water.
“We saw it splashing into the water and disappearing,” Sabine DeMeuter told the station. “We were in shock.”
Other witnesses told local media they first thought the plane was doing stunts, or that the smoke coming from the water was part of the upcoming air show.
Some bystanders even attempted to rescue the pilot by diving into the river, Coast Guard spokesman Frank Iannazzo-Simmons told the Times.
The plane had been housed for 16 years at the museum, located about 40 miles from Manhattan in Farmingdale, N.Y.
“It certainly has a solid performance history,” Lewi told ABC News, adding it showed “no sign whatsoever, or any suggestion of a problem.”
The P-47 Thunderbolt was the heaviest single-engine fighter used during World War II. And Americans built more P-47s than any other fighter airplane in aviation history, according to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.
“Thunderbolt pilots flew into battle with the thundering roar of a 2000-horsepower radial engine and the deadly flash of eight .50 caliber machine guns,” according to the Smithsonian. “This combination of a robust, reliable engine and heavy armament made the Thunderbolt successful. U. S. Army Forces (AAF) commanders considered it one of the three premier American fighter aircraft, alongside the North American P-51 Mustang and the Lockheed P-38 Lightning.”
Friday’s crash took place near the same site where US Airways Flight 1549 made a successful, emergency splash-landing in 2009. referred to as the “Miracle on the Hudson.”