On Saturday, July 28, 1945, 27-year old Lieutenant Colonel William Franklin Smith, Jr. was piloting a B-25 “Mitchell” bomber on a routine personnel transport mission from Boston to Newark Airport. Lt. Col. Smith, who served previously in the 457th Bomb Group with over 500 combat hours, asked for clearance to land, but was advised of zero visibility and that the top of the Empire State Building wasn’t visible. Proceeding anyway, he became disoriented by the fog, and started turning right instead of left after passing the Chrysler Building.
At 0940 hours, the B-25 Mitchell Bomber crashed into the north side of the Empire State Building, in the 79th floor, carving an 18 ft x 20 ft hole in the building where the offices of the National Catholic Welfare Council were located.
One engine shot through the side opposite the impact and flew as far as the next block where it landed on the roof of a nearby building, starting a fire that destroyed a penthouse. 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 that was ever successfully controlled.
Fourteen people (of which 11 workers from War Relief Services) workers were killed in the incident, and elevator operator Betty Lou Oliver was injured. After rescuers decided to transport her on an elevator which they did not know had weakened cables, it plunged 75 stories. She survived the plunge, which still stands as the Guinness World Record for the longest survived elevator fall recorded.
Interesting fact: The Empire State Building was constructed to take the impact of a 10-ton aircraft. Another lucky fact is that it occurred on Saturday and not many persons were working that day.