Flying down from New Bedford, Massachusetts, Lieutenant Colonel William Franklin Smith Jr., a 27-year-old West Point Graduate, U.S. Army pilot, and a recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal and French Croix de Guerre, was trying to fly his B-25 bomber through a steadily increasing fog on Saturday, July 28th, 1945. He was on his way to Newark airport to pick up his commanding officer when he appeared above New York Municipal airport (now LaGuardia Field) - about 25 miles to the east of his destination.
After he had flown the twin-engine B-25 bomber down under a 900-foot ceiling he radioed for a weather report. and requested permission to go on to Newark. The tower at Municipal approved the request, warned him of low - two mile - visibility, stating "From where I'm sitting," the tower operator warned, "I can't see the top of the Empire State Building."
Nevertheless, Smith flew the bomber down into the fog with his two crewmen, bound for Manhattan.
But, partway through their flight, the pilot quickly became disoriented because he was unable to see the ground below, and he lost his way. Despite Manhattan regulations that forbade aircraft from flying below 2,000 feet, Smith made the decision to drop below 1,000 feet in an attempt to straighten out his bomber's bomber location.
When his plane emerged from the thick, the visibility improved. But all around his Mitchell bomber, silhouettes of skyscrapers towered above Smith and his crew… and the New York Central Building, a 60-floor building at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, was directly ahead.
Thunder in the Street. In Manhattan, a few minutes before 10 a.m., workers in the midtown towers heard a plane close by — very close. It thundered past the stark, stone structures of Rockefeller Center. On the streets below, pedestrians startled by the low-flying craft looked up, saw Old John Feather Merchant barely miss a . Then the craft, southbound, pulled up into the cloud.
On the 75th floor of the Empire State Building a man heard the throbbing motors, turned quickly to the window, as he had many times before when planes passed. Coming straight at him out of the fog was a twin-engined bomber. It was banking slightly to the left.
Perhaps at that instant Lieut. Colonel Smith, veteran of 1,000 combat hours, caught a split-second glimpse of the massive grey structure, and tried to pull away.
Flame & Rubble. It was too late. In the next instant there happened what many a Manhattanite had often predicted and feared. The ten-ton airplane, flying at an estimated speed of 225 m.p.h., crashed head-on into the north side of the Empire State Building at the level of the 78th and 79th floors.
The aircraft's two engines, weighing more than a ton each, punched through the art deco façade. One smashed into the hoist shaft of elevator No 7; the second severed all six hoist cables suspending elevator No 6, which fell all the way to the basement. The screams of its young attendant, Betty Lou Oliver, could be heard in the lobby. When the elevator finally smashed into the oil-filled buffer at the base of the shaft, she suffered a broken back – and survived.
The world's tallest building shuddered through its 1,250 feet and down through its sub-street depths. A great roar burst from its high-rearing ribs.
The bomber gored through the thick steel and stone of the building as if they were papier-mâché. Then, in a flash of flame, the gasoline tanks exploded. In another instant flames leaped and seeped inside & outside the building.
Bright fire gushed from the 18-ft. wound in the structure's side, reached for the topmost observation tower on the 102nd floor. Gasoline fumes popped in flash explosions four and five floors below. Thick, acrid smoke billowed above & below, soon filled the upper floors.
Red gasoline ran into elevator shafts and exploded. Parts of the plane sheared elevator cables, and one elevator fell. One of the plane's engines crashed into an elevator shaft, screeched 79 floors, fell on the cab, carried it down to wreckage in the basement. The other engine and other heavy parts ripped through seven inner walls, then tore a hole in the south side of the building—90 feet from the point of crash. The wreckage fell in a sculptor's 12th-floor penthouse studio in a building across the street, caused another fire.
On the streets, 913 feet below the crash area, jagged bits of wings, hunks of metal and stone fell as far as five blocks away.