The pilot of a World War Two-era plane was killed at the start of the Memorial Day weekend when his aircraft crashed in the Hudson River off Manhattan after developing engine failure, authorities and local media said on Saturday.

The aircraft went down off Manhattan's West 79th Street, a few miles south of the George Washington Bridge, at around 7:30 pm on Friday as the long holiday weekend got underway, New Jersey State Police Sergeant Jeff Flynn said.

Friday's crash was close to where the pilot of a US Airways jetliner executed a perfect water landing in January 2009 after striking a flock of birds and losing power in both engines. All 155 passengers and crew survived that incident, which was dubbed the "Miracle on the Hudson."

The New York Police Department identified a body recovered from the vintage plane's wreckage as that of William Gordon, 56, of Key West, Florida.

The aircraft's engine failed during the flight, Gary Lewi, a spokesman for the American Airpower Museum, a Long Island-based facility where the plane was based, told Newsday.

Police would not comment on the cause of the crash, and said an investigation was underway. The plane was expected to be brought to shore soon, New York police spokesman Brian Magoolaghan said.

Flynn of the New Jersey State Police initially said the plane's sole occupant, a male pilot, was rescued from the river and transported to an area hospital with minor injuries.

The agency later said on its Twitter account that there were conflicting reports from the scene and they could no longer confirm the swimmer in the water had been the pilot.

The Federal Aviation Administration said the plane was a vintage P-47 Thunderbolt and was one of three aircraft that took off from Republic Airport in Farmingdale, New York.

Flynn said the plane was in the area because of Fleet Week, a week-long celebration of the US military's seafaring service members. The other two aircraft safely returned to the airport.

A large police and fire department presence was visible at the makeshift rescue headquarters at the 79th Street Boat Basin, where diners at a nearby restaurant looked on at the operations.

A dozen police and fire rescue boats adorned with flashing blue lights trawled the river into Friday night as authorities continued the search.

Sign up to our free newsletters

Get the best updates straight to your inbox:
Please select at least one mailing list.

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By subscribing, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing.