1945: A Bomber Crashes into the Empire State Building

Seventy years ago, a long anticipated and feared disaster occurred when a B-25 bomber, disoriented in a heavy fog, crashed into the Empire State Building on the foggy morning of July 28, 1945. See the original Fire Engineering reports covering the incident and the role that portable radio communications played in mitigating the incident.

The crash tore an 18- by 20-foot hole in the north side of the Empire State Building (34th Street), between the 78th and 79th floors. Fourteen people working that Saturday morning perished, along with the B-25 Mitchell bomber’s three-man crew. Had it been a regular workday, twice that many would have been working in the area, and there could have been between 10,000 and 15,000 occupants—tenants and visitors–in the building instead of the 1,000 to 1,500 estimated to be inside at the time of the accident.  Other factors in the accident also prevented a higher death toll. Read the details in the August 1945 Fire Engineering report, “Bomber Hits Empire State Building; New York Gets Its Highest Fire” HERE.

The impact sent one motor through the 78th floor into a penthouse on 33rd Street, the other motor and landing gear down an elevator shaft, and gasoline down stairwells. The building telephone communications were disrupted, forcing the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) to use shortwave radio pack sets to communicate between fire personnel on the ground and those 915 feet above. See the October 1945 article, “How ‘Walkie-Talkies’ Served at the Empire State Building Fire” HERE. FDNY’s radio operations and research had already attracted the attention of Great Britain, which recognized the advantages of mobile communications during the Blitz. A British article on this was reprinted in the September issue, “England’s N.F.S. Developing Radiotelephone Facilities” HERE.

Finally, “Recovers from 70-Story Drop” tells the story of elevator operator Betty Lou Oliver’s recovery HERE. She plunged 70 stories when the plane crash severed the elevator cables.  

Forty-five years later, FDNY would return to the Empire State Building for a fire. See the November 1990 article “Fire in the Empire State Building” HERE.

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