1945 Empire State Building B-25 crash

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Coordinates: 40°44′54″N 73°59′08″W / 40.74833°N 73.98556°W / 40.74833; -73.98556 (A Building)

1945 Empire State Building B-25 crash
The Empire State Building on fire following the crash
DateJuly 28, 1945
SummaryControlled flight into terrain (building) in inclement weather conditions (fog).
SiteEmpire State Building, New York City
Total fatalities14
Aircraft typeB-25 Mitchell
Aircraft nameOld John Feather Merchant
OperatorU.S. Army Air Forces
Flight originBedford Army Air Field
Bedford, Massachusetts
DestinationNewark Liberty International Airport
Occupants3 (flight crew members)
Ground casualties
Ground fatalities11

The Empire State Building B-25 crash was a 1945 aircraft accident in which a B-25 Mitchell bomber, piloted in thick fog over New York City, crashed into the Empire State Building. The accident did not compromise the building's structural integrity, but it did cause fourteen deaths (three crewmen and eleven people in the building) and damage estimated at US$1 million (equivalent to $13,917,000 in 2018).[1]


The plane embedded in the side of the building, 1945

On Saturday, July 28, 1945, Lieut. Col. William F. Smith Jr. was piloting a B-25 Mitchell bomber on a routine personnel transport mission from Bedford Army Air Field to Newark Airport.[2][3][4] Smith asked for clearance to land, but he was advised of zero visibility.[5] Proceeding anyway, he became disoriented by the fog and started turning right instead of left after passing the Chrysler Building.[6]

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[7] where the offices of the National Catholic Welfare Council were located. One engine shot through the South side opposite the impact and flew as far as the next block, dropping 900 feet (270 m) 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 significant fire at such a height to be brought under control.[7]

Fourteen people were killed: Smith, two enlisted men aboard the bomber (Staff Sergeant Christopher Domitrovich and Albert Perna, a Navy Aviation Machinist's Mate, hitching a ride), and eleven people in the building.[1] The remains of Navy hitchhiker Albert Perna were not found until two days later, when search crews discovered that his body had gone through an elevator shaft and fallen to the bottom. The other two crewmen were burned beyond recognition.[8] Elevator operator Betty Lou Oliver was injured when the cables supporting her elevator sheared and the elevator fell 75 stories, ending up in the basement. Oliver survived the fall, and rescuers found her amongst the rubble. This still stands as the Guinness World Record for the longest survived elevator fall.[6]

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.[9]

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  1. ^ a b "Empire State Building Withstood Airplane Impact". JOM (monthly publication of The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society). 2001.
  2. ^ Berman, John S. (2003). The Empire State Building: The Museum of the City of New York. Barnes, John & Noble Publishing. p. 85. ISBN 978-0-7607-3889-4.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ Byers, Roland O. (1985). Flak dodger: a story of the 457th Bombardment Group, 1943–1945, 8th AAF. Pawpaw Press.
  5. ^ Richman, Joe (July 28, 2008). "The Day A Bomber Hit The Empire State Building". NPR.
  6. ^ a b "Longest Fall Survived In An Elevator". guinnessworldrecords.com. Archived from the original on March 17, 2006.
  7. ^ a b Molnar, Matt. "On This Day in Aviation History: July 28th". NYCAviation. Retrieved 2009-07-28.
  8. ^ "B-25 Empire State Building Collision". Aerospaceweb.org. Retrieved April 8, 2012.
  9. ^ 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.

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