The day before a weekend air show, a single-engine stunt plane crashed Friday afternoon in New Windsor after its tail broke off during a practice maneuver, authorities and witnesses said.

The pilot of the Giles G-202, an experimental propeller-driven aircraft, died on impact, officials said.

Spectators at Stewart International Airport watched as the plane went into a deep dive at about 2 p.m., then pulled up in a corkscrew maneuver. Moments later, the plane appeared to lose speed and drift, with photographs showing the tail section breaking off.

The plane crashed in a wooded area away from onlookers, authorities said. No other injuries were reported.

"I just think this was a tragic accident," said State Police Capt. Brendan Casey, noting there was no distress call. "I don't know if there's anything from a safety standpoint that could have been done to prevent this."

The pilot was identified by a performance partner as Andrew Wright of Austin, Texas.

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Wright, who was part of the New York Air Show lineup, has performed at air shows since 2001, according to his website, Carbon Fiber Airshows.

Ben Granucci, who witnessed the crash, credits the pilot with steering the damaged aircraft away from a crowd of onlookers.

"He absolutely put all the energy he had available to him into keeping away from people," said Granucci, a photographer and editor with NYCaviation.com, an aviation news website. "I really hope he is recognized for that."

The Federal Aviation Administration said it will investigate the crash, and the National Transportation Safety Board, which is sending an investigator to the scene, will determine probable cause.

New York Air Show officials did not respond to requests for comment, but authorities said the show will be held as scheduled Saturday and Sunday.

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Vails Gate Fire Department Chief Thomas Lucchesi said it was fortunate the crash happened on a practice day.

"If it happened . . . [Saturday] or Sunday, and he wasn't able to steer away from the crowds, it could have been a potential disaster," Lucchesi said.