Jump to content

1945 Empire State Building B-25 crash

Coordinates: 40°44′54″N 73°59′08″W / 40.74833°N 73.98556°W / 40.74833; -73.98556 (A Building)
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
1945 Empire State Building B-25 crash
The Empire State Building on fire following the crash
DateJuly 28, 1945 (79 years ago)
SummaryControlled flight into terrain (building) in inclement weather conditions (fog)
SiteEmpire State Building, New York City
40°44′54″N 73°59′08″W / 40.74833°N 73.98556°W / 40.74833; -73.98556 (A Building)
Total fatalities14
Total injuries24
Aircraft typeB-25 Mitchell
Aircraft nameOld John Feather Merchant
OperatorUnited States Army Air Forces
Flight originBedford Army Air Field
Bedford, Massachusetts
DestinationNewark Metropolitan Airport
Occupants3 (flight crew members)
Ground casualties
Ground fatalities11
Ground injuries24

On July 28, 1945, a B-25 Mitchell bomber of the United States Army Air Forces crashed into the north side of the Empire State Building in New York City while flying in thick fog. The crash killed fourteen people (three crewmen and eleven people in the building), and an estimated twenty-four others were injured. Damage caused by the crash was estimated at US$1 million (equivalent to about $17 million in 2023), although the building's structural integrity was not compromised.[1]


On Saturday, July 28, 1945, Lieutenant Colonel William Franklin Smith Jr., of Watertown, Massachusetts,[2] was piloting a B-25 Mitchell bomber on a routine personnel transport mission from Bedford Army Air Field in Massachusetts. Due to thick fog, the aircraft was unable to land at LaGuardia Airport as scheduled.[3] The pilot requested to divert to Newark Metropolitan Airport in New Jersey.[3][4][5][6] Smith asked for clearance to land, but he was advised of zero visibility.[7] Proceeding anyway, he became disoriented by the fog and turned right instead of left after flying dangerously close to the Chrysler Building on East 42nd Street.[3][8]

A black-and-white photo of airplane wreckage embedded in the facade, high up
The plane embedded in the side of the building

At 9:40 a.m., the aircraft crashed into the north side of the Empire State Building, between the 78th and 80th floors, making an 18-by-20-foot (5.5 m × 6.1 m) hole in the building[9] into the offices of the War Relief Services and the National Catholic Welfare Council. One engine shot through the south side opposite the impact, flew as far as the next block, dropped 900 feet (270 m), landed on the roof of a nearby building and caused a fire that destroyed a penthouse art studio. The other engine and part of the landing gear fell down an elevator shaft. The resulting fire was extinguished in 40 minutes. The Empire State Building fire is the highest structural fire to be brought under control by firefighters.[9]

Between 50 and 60 sightseers were on the 86th floor observation deck when the crash happened. Fourteen people were killed: Colonel Smith, Staff Sergeant Christopher Domitrovich, and Navy Aviation Machinist's Mate Albert Perna, who was hitching a ride, and eleven civilians in the building.[1] Perna's body was not found until two days later, when search crews discovered that it had entered an elevator shaft and fallen to the bottom. The other two crewmen were burned beyond recognition.[10] Approximately twenty to twenty-four others were injured as a result of the crash.[11][12] Elevator operator Betty Lou Oliver was thrown from her elevator car on the 80th floor and suffered severe burns. First aid workers placed her on another elevator car to transport her to the ground floor, but the cables supporting that elevator had been damaged in the incident, and it fell 75 stories, ending up in the basement.[13] Oliver survived the fall due to the softening cushion of air created by the falling elevator car within this elevator shaft; however, she had suffered a broken pelvis, back and neck when rescuers found her amongst the rubble.[14] This remains the world record for the longest survived elevator fall.[8]

Workmen clearing the wreckage


Despite the damage and deaths, the building was open for business on many floors on the next Monday morning, less than 48 hours later. After the debris had been cleared away, Armand Hammer purchased the damaged 78th floor, refurbished it, and made it the headquarters of his United Distillers of America.[15][16]

The crash spurred the passage of the long-pending Federal Tort Claims Act, which was signed into law by President Harry S. Truman in August 1946, initiating retroactive provisions into the law and allowing people to sue the government for the accident.[14]

On July 24, 1946, four days before the first anniversary of the crash, another aircraft narrowly missed striking the building. The unidentified twin-engine plane, described as bearing no military insignia, flew past the 68th floor, startling workers and tourists.[17]

The events of the crash were the subject of an episode of the 2001 History channel documentary Disasters of the Century, "It Came from the Sky".[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Empire State Building Withstood Airplane Impact". JOM (monthly publication of The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society). 2001.
  2. ^ "Empire Crash Due to 'Human Errors'". United Press. August 17, 1945. Retrieved March 3, 2023.
  3. ^ a b c Genzmer, Herbert; Kershner, Sybille; Schutz, Christian. Great Disasters. Queens Street house. p. 210. ISBN 9781445410968.
  4. ^ Berman, John S. (2003). The Empire State Building: The Museum of the City of New York. Barnes, John & Noble Publishing. p. 85. ISBN 9780760738894.
  5. ^ Barron, James (July 28, 1995). "Flaming Horror on the 79th Floor; 50 Years Ago Today, in the Fog, a Plane Hit the World's Tallest Building". The New York Times. Retrieved November 17, 2012.
  6. ^ Byers, Roland O. (1985). Flak dodger: a story of the 457th Bombardment Group, 1943–1945, 8th AAF. Pawpaw Press.
  7. ^ Richman, Joe (July 28, 2008). "The Day A Bomber Hit The Empire State Building". NPR.
  8. ^ a b "Longest Fall Survived In An Elevator". GuinnessWorldRecords.com. Archived from the original on March 17, 2006.
  9. ^ a b Molnar, Matt. "On This Day in Aviation History: July 28th". NYCAviation. Retrieved 2009-07-28.
  10. ^ "B-25 Empire State Building Collision". Aerospaceweb.org. Retrieved April 8, 2012.
  11. ^ "Two Probes Underway; 24 Injured". Sunday News. July 29, 1945. Retrieved March 3, 2023.
  12. ^ "Crash Kills At Least 13". Associated Press. July 29, 1945. Retrieved March 3, 2023.
  13. ^ Lynch, Patrick (11 October 2017). "This Woman Cheated Death Twice on the Same Day After a 1945 Disaster". HistoryCollection.co. Retrieved 11 May 2020.
  14. ^ a b Joe Richman (July 28, 2008). "The Day A Bomber Hit The Empire State Building". NPR. Retrieved July 28, 2008. Eight months after the crash, the U.S. government offered money to families of the victims. Some accepted, but others initiated a lawsuit that resulted in landmark legislation. The Federal Tort Claims Act of 1946, for the first time, gave American citizens the right to sue the federal government.
  15. ^ Fenton, James (2008-03-15). "Restoration and removal". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2023-03-14.
  16. ^ "Comment". The New Yorker. 1946-06-22. Retrieved 2023-03-14.
  17. ^ "Plane Barely Misses Hitting Empire State". The Spokesman-Review (credited to Chicago Tribune Service). Spokane, Washington. July 25, 1946. Retrieved March 3, 2023 – via Newspapers.com.

External links[edit]