Pilots Honor Crashed Comrade at Airshow With Missing Man Formation

The World War II vintage P-47 Thunderbolt that crashed into the Hudson River Friday, May 27, 2016, is lifted from the water Saturday. The pilot, William Gordon, 56, of Key West, Fla., died in the crash. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

Pilots from an airshow at the American Airpower Museum performed a “missing man formation” salute to the pilot whose World War II plane crashed into the Hudson River on May 27th.

William Gordon, 56, from Key West, Florida, was flying a P-47 Thunderbolt to promote the American Airpower Museum on Long Island which is celebrating the 75th anniversary of the P-47.

Gordon was a veteran air show pilot, having over 25 years of experience. New York City police scuba divers were able to retrieve his body from the plane’s wreckage about three hours after the crash.

While bagpipes played, pilots flew over the museum in the “missing man formation.”

Scott Clyman is a flight operations pilot for the American Airpower Museum. He said that Gordon was “an extraordinary pilot who understood the powerful message our aircraft represent in telling the story of American courage and valor.” Promotional material for a Key West air show last month said Gordon was an “aerobatic competency evaluator” who certified performers to perform low-level aerobatics.”

His plane crashed in the same part of the river where a U.S. Airways commercial jet safely crash-landed with 155 people aboard, in an event now known as the Miracle on the Hudson.

The plane was pulled from the water the day after the wreck and loaded onto a barge. It was delivered to a heliport in lower Manhattan where National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration investigators can examine it.

The airplane crashed around 7:30 pm on May 27th. It was one of three planes that left Republic Airport in Farmingdale on Long Island. The other two aircraft returned to the airport and landed safely.

Siqi Li, a student at Hunter College, thought the plane was performing a trick when they saw smoke coming from it. “It made kind of a U-turn, and then there was a stream of smoke coming from it,” Li said. “It was tilting down toward the water. I thought they were doing some sort of trick. I didn’t realize it at first, but it was a plane crash.”

Gary Lewi, the spokesman for the museum, said the plane was part of the museum’s collection and was to be part of the airshow at Jones Beach that weekend.

Clyman told attendees at a memorial service on Saturday that Gordon was always interested in World War II fighter planes, and that “He quickly demonstrated the skill to master these demanding aircraft.”

The P-47 Thunderbolt is the heaviest single-engine fighter plane the Allies used in World War II, they were first placed into service in 1942 as part of the 56th Fighter Group.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE