the Empire State Building
By Thomas M. Cunningham
US Naval Academy Fire Department
At 9:50 am on Saturday July
28, 1945, impossibility became a reality. A B-25 “Billy Mitchell” bomber
belonging to the US Army Air Corps crashed into the Empire State Building.
The plane was enroute to the Newark Airport located in New Jersey when
it struck the 102-story structure. The odds against such an incident ever
happening were computed as being 10,000 to 1. But weather flying conditions
at the time helped contribute to the incident.
Col. William F. Smith a 27-year-old West Point Graduate was piloting the
plane at the time of the incident. He was a combat veteran and had flown
for two years over the skies of Europe. During his time in Europe he had
amassed over a thousand hours flying time. For the hours he had flown Col.
Smith was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal and the Croix
de Guerre for his wartime service in the European theater.
This flight originated in
New Bedford, Mass and attempts to land at LaGuardia airport were unsuccessful
due to the dense fog that had socked in the area. The plane then turned
and headed for Newark airport. LaGuardia tower told Col. Smith that the
ceiling was near zero and visibility forward would be limited to three
miles. The air traffic controller also added that because of the conditions
the top of the Empire State Building was not visible.
People walking on the streets
below at approximately 9:48 am looked up and briefly caught a glimpse of
the bomber flying through the clouds as it just missed the Rockefeller
center. Eyewitness accounts say the plane was flying about 500 feet when
the near miss occurred. The plane then banked sharply up and disappeared
into the fog.
No one knows for sure, but
investigators believe that Col. Smith looked down through a break in the
cloud cover and saw a curved river and thought it to be the East River,
when in fact it was the Hudson. Seeing this curve it is believed that he
then descended for his approach at Newark airport. It is believed that
the planes speed at this time was 225 mph. Within seconds the plane was
closing rapidly on the Empire State Building. Col. Smith attempted to veer
away from the structure but his proximity to the building would not allow
for such an evasive maneuver. The plane impacted the78th and 79th floors
on the towers north end.
|The impact of the plane
created an 18 x 20 foot hole in the side of the tower. This crash caused
extensive damage to the masonry exterior and the interior steel structure
of the building. The 102-foot building was rocked by the impact. Many people
who were in the street at the time saw flames shooting from the point of
impact, which was at the 913-foot level. The impact was heard as far as
two miles away. Flames and dense smoke obscured the top of the structure.
Later on a wing was found on Madison Avenue, one block away.
Nearby buildings were damaged
by fragments of the impact and one of the planes engines was found on the
South side of the building in the top of a twelve story building. The engine
had flown over thirty-third St. and had crashed through a skylight in a
penthouse. The engine started a $78,000.00 fire in the studio of sculptor
Henry Hering. Hotel magnet Vincent Astor owned this 12-story building.
One body was found on a 72nd
story ledge, but was burned beyond recognition. Only 14 people would perish
in this incident and another 25 would suffer severe wounds.
other engine hit the door leading into an elevator shaft and fell 80 stories.
While falling the engine cut the cables on many of the elevators. A woman
riding one of these elevators was sent plummeting downward, but the elevator
braking system prevented a basement crash, instead the top of the elevator
was crush an she was trapped in total darkness.
The fuselage of the plane
disintegrated into the 78th and 79th floor killing all four onboard the
B-25, as well as killing or injuring everyone working in the War Relief
Services and National Catholic Welfare Conference offices. Those who perished
were either killed by the flying metal or by the raging inferno that followed.
The woman in the elevator was
saved when a man named Donald Maloney who had been passing by witnessed
the accident ran into a drugstore. There he demanded hypodermic needles
as well as drugs and other medical supplies, he then raced into the damaged
building to help. Mr. Maloney was a former hospital apprentice in the US
the streets people were frozen in terror as they watched the events unfold.
Arriving fire companies proceeded up into the building using the remaining
working elevators and began to attack the blaze. Water and gasoline poured
out of the gapping hole and ran down the exterior of the building.
Soon fire companies got the
blaze under control and were able to extinguish it without any further
calamities occurring. It took the FDNY 4 alarms to bring this situation
inside he found rescuers who had forced an opening into the crushed elevator.
Mr. Maloney then lowered himself into the crushed elevator and removed
the unconscious woman, upon extricating her he administered morphine to
her and she was then rushed to the hospital Mr. Maloney’s actions saved
the woman’s life.
There are also some interesting
side notes concerning this incident:
About the author:
* The Empire
State Building was constructed to take the impact of a 10-ton aircraft.
* Damage to
the building was estimated at $500,000.00, the Army paid up when the negotiations
were lowered to $288,901.00.
* The New York
Telephone Company estimated that they lost approximately $1,869.67 of equipment
as a result of the crash, this was immediately paid for.
* At 200 Fifth
Avenue at Childs Restaurant a plate glass window was broken which the Army
paid $365.00 for.
* As for Henry
Hering and his claim that his life’s work valued at $137,000.00 had been
destroyed. The Army only offered him $25,000.00. (So much for the value
currently serves as a career firefighter at The US Naval Academy Fire Department
in Annapolis, Maryland since 1988. He has also served as a line officer
with the Glen Burnie Volunteer Fire Company in Glen Burnie, Maryland. He
is the state coordinator for the National Fire Academy Alumni Association,
member of the NFPA and NAFI. He is also finishing his B.S. degree in Fire
Safety Engineering at Western Illinois University. He also holds IFSAC
Certification as a Fire officer IV, Instructor III, Investigator, Inspector
II, Safety officer, and HAZMAT incident commander. Questions or comments