We have all seen the horrific scenes of the 9/11 attacks in New York, the 2 images of the 2 planes crashing into the twin towers will forever be ingrained in our minds.
But this wasn’t the first time a plane had crashed into a New York skyscraper. On July 28 1945, near the end of WWII a B-25 bomber crashed into the Empire state Building,however this time it wasn’t an act of terror but an accident.
On the foggy morning of Saturday, July 28, 1945, Lt. Colonel William Smith was piloting a U.S. Army B-25 bomber through New York City when he crashed into the Empire State Building at 9:45 a.m, killing 14 people.
Lt. Colonel William Smith was on his way to Newark Airport to pick up his commanding officer, but for some reason he showed up over LaGuardia Airport and asked for a weather report.
Because of the poor visibility, the LaGuardia tower wanted to him to land, but Smith requested and received permission from the military to continue on to Newark.
The last transmission from the LaGuardia tower to the plane was a foreboding warning: “From where I’m sitting, I can’t see the top of the Empire State Building.”
He was piloting a B-25 Mitchell bomber on a routine personnel transport mission from Bedford Army Air Field to Newark Airport.
Smith asked for clearance to land, but was advised of zero visibility. Proceeding anyway, he became disoriented by the fog, and started turning right instead of left after passing the Chrysler Building.
At 9:40 a.m., the aircraft crashed into the north side of the Empire State Building, between the 78th and 80th floors, carving an 18-by-20-foot (5.5 m × 6.1 m) hole in the building where the offices of the National Catholic Welfare Council were located.World War II had caused many to shift to a six-day work week; thus there were many people at work in the Empire State Building that Saturday The majority of the plane hit the 79th floor, creating a hole in the building 18 feet wide and 20 feet high.The plane’s high-octane fuel exploded, hurtling flames down the side of the building and inside through hallways and stairwells all the way down to the 75th floor.
One engine shot through the South side opposite the impact and flew as far as the next block, dropping 900 feet and landing on the roof of a nearby building and starting a fire that destroyed a penthouse art studio. The other engine and part of the landing gear plummeted down an elevator shaft. The resulting fire was extinguished in 40 minutes. It is still the only fire at such a height to be brought under control.
Fourteen people were killed: Smith, the two others aboard the bomber (Staff Sergeant Christopher Domitrovich and Albert Perna, a Navy aviation machinist’s friend hitching a ride), and eleven others in the building.
Smith was not found until two days later after search crews found that his body had gone through an elevator shaft and fallen to the bottom. Elevator operator Betty Lou Oliver was injured. Rescuers decided to transport her on an elevator that they did not know had weakened cables. The cables snapped and the elevator fell 75 stories, ending up in the basements. She managed to survive the fall, which still stands as the Guinness World Record for the longest survived elevator fall, and was later found by rescue workers among the rubble.
Despite the damage and loss of life, the building was open for business on many floors on the following Monday. The crash spurred the passage of the long-pending Federal Tort Claims Act of 1946, as well as the insertion of retroactive provisions into the law, allowing people to sue the government for the accident.
A missing stone in the facade served as evidence of where the aircraft crashed into the building.
In the 1960s, when the World Trade Center was being designed, this B-25 impact incident served as motivation for the designers to consider a scenario of an accidental impact of a Boeing 707 into one of the twin towers (this was prior to the introduction of the 767, which crashed into WTC 1 and 2 on September 11th, 2001).