Failure: Empire State Building B-25 Plane Crash
Location: New York City, New York
Type: Plane Crash
On a foggy day in July 1945 a B-25 Mitchell airplane crashed into the north side of the Empire State Building when flying low [a]. At the time, the Empire State building was the tallest building in the world since it’s completion in 1931, and remained in that title until 1970 when surpassed by the One World Trade Center.
The plane’s pilot was Lieutenant Colonel W.F. Smith, Jr. who planned to fly from Bedford, Massachusetts to Newark, New Jersey, with a co-pilot and another passenger. He was traveling approximately 250 MPH when he was warned by the La Guardia Airport control tower to land the plane. The tops of the New York skyscrapers, particularly the Empire State Building, would not be visible because of the fog. The Lieutenant ignored this warning and continued ahead. He was navigating through the skyscrapers, lost sight of where he was, and crashed directly in between the 78th and 80th floors of the Empire State Building. See Figure 2 above for an image of where the crash occurred and Figure 3 for an image of the exact plane collision area [b].
During the crash 14 people died, including the pilots and passenger on the plane. The 11 victims inside of the Empire State Building worked for the War Relief Services department of the National Catholic Welfare conference [a]. Some of these people burned from jet fuel ignition and the others were thrown out of the building. 25 other people were also seriously injured [c]. See Figure 1 for an image of the Empire State Building after the plane crash occurred. “The force of the impact sheared off the wings of the plane and propelled one of the two motors across the width of the building…[and] demolished the studio of Henry Hering” and “the other motor…crashed into an elevator shaft and fell…onto the top of an unoccupied elevator” [b]. The women in the elevator escaped with help from emergency crews after the auto-braking system had stopped the shaft from falling. Luckily, because of the weight of the building vs. the weight of the plane and its impact, the building barely swayed and was still structurally sound – despite the fires that ignited [b]. This building failure was caused by a lack of good judgment and foggy weather.
After this incident, the Federal Tort Claims Act was passed approximately a year later [d]. This Act let people sue the United States government in federal court for accidents of this nature. This was a long time coming, but after this incident some families sued the federal government, while some took a large sum of money for their loss.
There is still a missing stone in the façade of the Empire State Building where the plane crash occurred.
[b] Levy, Matthys, and Mario Salvadori. Why Buildings Fall Down: How Structures Fail. New York: W.W. Norton, 1992. Print.
[c] Wilson, Alex. “1945 Airplane Crash into the Empire State Building.” Disasters, Accidents, and Crises in American History: A Reference Guide to the Nation’s Most Catastrophic Events. Ballard C. Campbell. New York: Facts on File, 2008. 290-291. Facts on File Library of American History. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 4 Feb. 2014.