The World War II-era plane that crashed Friday into the Hudson River and killed the pilot during a promotional flight for a Farmingdale aviation museum is expected to go to Delaware, where the salvaged wreckage will be scrutinized, according to a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board.
Just before noon Saturday, divers, hoisters and other salvagers from city and federal agencies lifted the plane from the Hudson with a crane, transporting the single-seat P-47 Thunderbolt fighter from the crash site near Edgewater, New Jersey, to the Downtown Manhattan Heliport, known as the Wall Street Heliport. The body of longtime vintage-aircraft pilot Bill Gordon, 56, of Key West, Florida, had been recovered Friday night.
The plane went down during the promotional flight in the waters between New York and New Jersey for the American Airpower Museum in Farmingdale.
The NTSB plans to issue a preliminary report within two to three weeks addressing the crash’s cause, but a full accounting of what happened is likely to take six months to a year, said Nicholas Worrell, the board spokesman.
Responsibility to recover and transport the plane intact Saturday rested with the U.S. Coast Guard, the Army Corps of Engineers and divers from the NYPD, which deployed two experienced detective divers, Mike Cocchi and Dan Corio. The men dove down to the crash site with “zero visibility” to secure a hoist around the front of the plane, Cocchi said in an interview.
Knowing they’d have little to no ability to see once below the surface, the men researched details about the plane online in order to feel their way around on a limited oxygen supply, while wary of the unexpected: they didn’t know the condition of the airplane, whether there might be sharp objects, protruding wires, or other objects that might entangle the divers.
They decided to wrap the cable around the plane by the engine, where the propellers are, which is the strongest part of the aircraft, he said. Once secure, the apparatus was hoisted into the air by an Army Corps of Engineers vessel.
“When the plane came out, ironically, it was in amazing condition,” he said. “It really was a strong plane.”
The salvage operation Saturday came as a missing-man formation was performed over the American Airpower Museum in Farmingdale as a tribute to Gordon.
Gordon was due to fly at the Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach this weekend.
Investigators expected the plane to be moved to Delaware, the site of a government facility, Saturday or Sunday, Worrell said. The investigator assigned to the case is Paul Cox, a former Navy pilot based in Virginia who has experience on more than 500 accident investigations. Worrell said a different investigator would likely take over for Cox starting Tuesday.
The type of plane Gordon was flying, the P-47, was widely used during the war, when it was armed with eight 0.50-caliber machine guns, four on each wing, and could hold a bomb load of 2,500 pounds. But this particular plane, built in about 1944, did not see action during the war, museum spokesman Gary Lewi said. Republic Aviation built Thunderbolts at its East Farmingdale plant from 1941 until 1945.
The plane, 36 feet long with a wingspan of nearly 41 feet, weighs 10,700 pounds.
Petty Officer Frank Iannazzo-Simmons, a spokesman for the U.S. Coast Guard in Manhattan, said the NYPD and the Coast Guard surrounded the salvaged aircraft and the corps vessel on their way to the heliport “creating a little, almost like a bubble” around the vessel to clear the way of other boats.
With Kevin Deutsch and Joan Gralla