A salvage team has recovered a small vintage World War II fighter plane that crashed into the Hudson River between Manhattan and New Jersey Friday evening, killing the pilot onboard.
The Army Corps of Engineers lifted the aircraft out of the river Saturday. The plane was taken to the Downtown Manhattan Heliport near Wall Street.
The P-47 Thunderbolt, a single-seat propeller plane, was on a flight to shoot promotional material for the Bethpage Air Show in Jones Beach when it went down in the water about two miles south of the George Washington Bridge at about 7:30 p.m. on Friday, according to officials.
Police, fire and Coast Guard boats and helicopters swarmed the area as they searched for the pilot, later identified as William Gordon of Key West, Florida.
Scuba divers recovered the 56-year-old pilot’s body about three hours after the crash, according to NYPD Det. Michael Debonis.
The plane suffered some sort of mechanical problem and the pilot tried to ditch in the Hudson, said Gari Lewi, a spokesman for the American Airpower Museum at Republic Airport on Long Island, which owns the plane. It's not clear what the source of the problem was.
Diners at Waterside Restaurant in North Bergen, New Jersey, told NBC 4 New York they saw the small vintage plane appear to start landing, then suddenly plunge into the water nose first.
Other witnesses say they saw the smoke hit the water and at first thought it was an air show for Fleet Week, which draws thousands of people to the nearby Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum for events including live demonstrations.
Bethpage Air Show organizers said in a statement posted online they will proceed with the event "with heavy hearts."
"The pilot was a friend to us all and we send our deepest sympathy to his family and our friends at the American Air Power Museum," the statement read.
Gordon was a veteran air show pilot and had more than 25 years of experience, the AP reported, citing promotional material on a website for a Key West air show last month. Gordon was an "aerobatic competency evaluator" who certified pilots to perform low-level aerobatics, according to the site.
The P47-Thunderbolt was the heaviest single-engine fighter plane used by Allied forces in World War II. The aircraft first went into service in 1942 with the 56th Fighter Group based on Long Island.
Lewi said the museum was going to honor the plane’s 75th anniversary of coming into service this weekend at the air show. The plane that crashed was supposed to fly in this weekend’s airshow.
It has flown periodically, including to other air shows, Lewi said.
The site where the plane crashed Friday, near the Edgewater Marina, is less than five miles upriver from where U.S. Airways Flight 1549 made an emergency landing in the river in 2009 in what is now commonly referred to as “The Miracle on the Hudson”
Jonathan Dienst and Michael Gargiulo contributed to this report.