New York City (NYC)
B-25 Empire State Building Crash - 1945

Empire State  Building Crash - 1945
Photo Credit: The New York Times

On the morning of June 18, 1945, mist accumulated atop NYC. Lt. Colonel William Smith was piloting a B-25 bomber (often used in WWII) with two others on board and on his way to pick up his commanding officer. The pilot was 25 miles from his Newark Airport destination when he requested a weather update from the Municipal Airport, now known as LaGuardia. Air traffic controllers advised him to land there, due to the poor visibility caused by the fog. However, having received clearance from the military, he continued on route to Newark. On his way to Newark Airport, the pilot became disoriented by the fog and lost his way. Despite planes being prohibited to descend below 2000ft, Lt. Smith descended to 1000ft to gain visibility. Much to his surprise the plane was surrounded by skyscrapers.

Directly in front of him was the New York Central Building. He responded by sharply banking west and successfully dodging the colossus of steel and concrete that was blocking his path. He proceeded to dodge several more buildings, until his maneuvers put him directly in line of the Empire State building. The pilot responded quickly by trying to gain altitude, up and away from the building. However, the B-25, limited in capability, was not as agile as he hoped. The impact was made at the 79th floor of the building, creating a gaping hole in the concrete 20ft high and 18ft wide. One of the engines which detached from the plane in the explosion exited the building on the other side. Fire erupted from the explosion of the plane's high octane fuel, and debris fell on the surrounding buildings and on the ground. The second engine landed atop the elevator car; as the cables snapped, the elevator car holding three women plummeted down from 75th floor to the basement of the building. Miraculously, two of the women were found alive later that day. Their lives were saved by a buffer of tangled cables at the bottom of the elevator shaft, and by the emergency elevator brake that slightly slowed their fall.

A total of 14 people died in the plane crash: three crew members and eleven people working in offices, many of whom were killed by fire that broke out after the explosion. The structure of Empire State Building was not compromised as a result of the crash, but the cost to repair the building was as high as one million dollars.

Visit Additional NYC Aircraft Accidents:
Staten Island and Park Slope Crashes (1960)
American Airlines-Flight 001 (1962)
Eastern Airlines-Flight 66 (1975)
Trans World Airlines-Flight 800 (1996)
American Airlines-Flight 587 (2001)

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