Little Bits of History

Plane Flies into Building in New York

Posted in History by patriciahysell on July 28, 2011

Empire State Building after the crash

July 28, 1945: A plane flies into the tallest building in New York City. The building had been designed by William F. Lamb who used previously rejected drawings to create the design in just two weeks. Excavation of the site began on January 22, 1930 and the actual building was started on St. Patrick’s Day that year. There were about 3,000 people working on the building, mostly immigrants. Five of those workers died during construction. Former New York’s governor, Al Smith, allowed his grandchildren to cut the ribbon, opening the building on May 1, 1931. President Hoover turned on the lights remotely from Washington, D.C. and the Empire State Building was officially opened.

The Empire State Building stands 1,250 feet tall at the 102nd floor Observatory. Atop that is the 203 foot tall pinnacle for a total rise of 1,453 feet and 8 9/16 inches. The 86th floor has an indoor and outdoor observation deck. The pinnacle is peppered with broadcast antennas and topped by a lightning rod. It was the first construction project of over 100 floors and there are 1,872 steps from the ground to the 103rd floor. There are 6,514 windows in the building as well as 73 elevators. Also included are 473 miles of electrical wiring and 70 miles of pipe. It cost $40,948,900 to build.

In 1945, July 28 was a Saturday. It was foggy morning. Lieutenant Colonel William Franklin Smith, Jr. was piloting a B-25 Mitchell bomber. He was undertaking a routine personnel transport mission from Boston to LaGuardia Airport. When he asked for permission to land, he was told of the zero visibility. He opted to proceed regardless of this problem. Because of the dense fog, he became disoriented. When he passed the Chrysler Building, he should have turned left. Instead, he turned right. He crashed into the Empire State Building at 9:40 AM. His plane struck between the 78th and 80th floors and caved in an eighteen by twenty foot hole in the north side of the building.

One engine shot through the opposite side of the impact and flew another block before landing atop another building. There, it started a fire, nearly destroying the penthouse of the affected building. The second engine and the landing gear fell down an elevator shaft. The fire due to the crash was extinguished in forty minutes; even today it remains the only such fire at such a height to be successfully contained. Fourteen people were killed. Betty Lou Oliver was the elevator operator and survived the event. She was lowered inside the elevator and the cable broke, dropping her 75 stories. She was injured, but survived. Despite all this chaos, the building was opened again the following Monday.

“Eddie Fisher married to Elizabeth Taylor is like me trying to wash the Empire State Building with a bar of soap.” – Don Rickles

“The Eiffel Tower is the Empire State Building after taxes.” – Anonymous

“An optimist is someone who falls off the Empire State Building, and after 50 floors says, ‘So far so good!’“ – Anonymous

“The Empire State Building is the closest thing to heaven in this city.” – Terry McKay

Also on this day:
Dusting for Prints – In 1858, fingerprints are first used – sorta.
Motormouth – In 1958, Lord Jellico spoke for the first time in 19 years.