World War II saw the shooting down of more of our military planes that most of us want to think about. We saw the loss by planes being shot down, but also transport planes lost, and planes lost in training accidents. The loss was felt deeply. I realize that accidents are a fact of life and during wartime they are probably more likely to happen than other times, but some accidents just have a bigger impact on our emotions than others. Such was the case of the accident of July 28, 1945.
That morning, the skies over New York City were filled with heavy fog. A B-52 Mitchell Bomber with two pilots and one passenger aboard, en route from New Bedford, Massachusetts, to LaGuardia Airport in New York City, was diverted because the fog was so thick. As it came into the metropolitan area on that Saturday morning, air-traffic controllers instructed the plane to fly to Newark Airport instead.
The new flight plan took the plane over Manhattan. The pilots were warned that the Empire State Building, the tallest building in the city at that time, was not visible. In an effort to gain better visibility, the pilot of the bomber was flying relatively slowly and quite low. As the plane came in straight at the Chrysler Building in midtown, it swerved to avoid the collision, thereby setting it in a collision path with the Empire State Building, hitting the building near the 79th floor. The fuel tanks exploded, filling the building with flames down to the 75th floor, and out of the building at the impact site. One engine from the plane went straight through the building and landed in a penthouse apartment across the street. Other plane parts were embedded in and on top of nearby buildings. The other engine snapped an elevator cable while at least one woman was riding in the elevator car. The emergency auto brake saved the woman from crashing to the bottom, but the engine fell down the shaft and landed on top of it. Thankfully, the rescuers pulled the woman from the elevator, thereby saving her life.
July 28th was a Saturday that year, so there were fewer people in the building. The loss of life in the Empire State Building was only 11 people, but death came by way of horrific burns from the jet fuel, or being thrown from the building. The 11 people killed were all workers from the War Relief Services Department of the National Catholic Welfare Conference…the office that the plane crashed into on that fateful day. The other three deaths were the two pilots and their passenger. The crash left an 18 by 20 foot hole in the side of the Empire State Building. The building itself, stood however, because, this plane was nowhere near the size of the planes that took down the World Trade Center in Manhattan on Sept 11, 2001, an event that probably seemed eerily similar to those who were alive and living in New York City on July 28, 1945. The crash caused one million dollars in damage at that time, which would equate to about 10.5 million these days. For many people this was an event, much like 9-11 that would never be forgotten, even though it was not a terrorist attack, but rather a tragic accident.