12 Dramatic Photos Of The Empire State Building Plane Crash

Published January 17, 2018
Updated November 8, 2023

In 1945, while flying low in a haze of heavy fog, a B-25 Bomber made a wrong turn in New York City and crashed into the Empire State Building.

Empire State Building smoke and fire
A woman stretched out after the Empire State Building plane crash
A man stands over debris from the Empire State Building plane crash
Empire State Building plane crash fire
12 Dramatic Photos Of The Empire State Building Plane Crash
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"An English day if I ever saw one."

Those were some of the last words that Lieutenant Colonel William Franklin Smith Jr. said to his wife before accidentally piloting his B-25 Mitchell Bomber into the side of the New York City's Empire State Building, killing 14 people in the process.

On a routine transport mission from Bedford Army Air Field to LaGuardia Airport, just before 9:40 a.m. on Saturday, July 28, 1945, Smith found himself lost in a heavy fog. With his view distorted, he was instructed to land at Newark Airport instead.

However, as he was flying slow and low to seek better visibility, he made a wrong turn to avoid the Chrysler Building and found himself staring at the Empire State Building, the city's tallest building.

Upon crashing between the 78th and 80th floors of the building's north side, the plane's fuel exploded, filling the skyscraper with flames. One of the plane's engines shot through the building to the other side, landing in sculptor Henry Hering's penthouse across the street, destroying about $75,000 worth of art. Other pieces of the plane landed on the street and on top of nearby structures.

As a shocked crowd watched from the street, police, firemen, and rescue workers rushed to the scene to aid those trapped and injured in the building. One of the those injured was Elevator operator Betty Lou Oliver, who was working on the 80th floor when the plane struck.

As rescue workers loaded Oliver into an Elevator for transport, the car's cables snapped and was sent into a 75-floor firey free fall to the building's basement.

Miraculously, Betty Lou survived with only a broken pelvis, back, and neck to complain about. It's said that her Guinness World Record fall was cushioned by broken cables, which piled up in a spring-like spiral on the floor of the shaft. It's also thought that the narrow lift shaft acted as a compressor for air and softened the blow.

Because it's New York City, despite the damage and a giant 18-by-20-foot hole at the top of the building, occupants returned to work the following Monday.

Now that you've read about the Empire State Building plane crash, read about these incredible New York City facts. Then check out these 1970s photos of life in New York City.

John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
Cite This Article
Kuroski, John. "12 Dramatic Photos Of The Empire State Building Plane Crash." AllThatsInteresting.com, January 17, 2018, https://allthatsinteresting.com/empire-state-building-plane-crash. Accessed April 20, 2024.