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A Plane Crashed into the Empire State Building in 1945?!

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
September 22, 2022 3:03 am

A Plane Crashed into the Empire State Building in 1945?!

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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September 22, 2022 3:03 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, in July of 1945, a U.S. B-25 Mitchell got lost in heavy fog over Manhattan. Here’s The History Guy remembering the B-25 Empire State Building Crash.

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His videos are watched by hundreds of thousands of people of all ages on YouTube. The history guy is also heard here at our American stories. In July of 1945, a US B-25 Mitchell got lost in heavy fog over Manhattan. Here's the history guy remembering the B-25 Empire State Building crack. The summer of 1945 represented hope for a war-weary nation. Germany had surrendered in May. In the Pacific, General Douglas MacArthur announced that the Philippines had been liberated and in New Mexico, the United States tested the bomb that would finally put an end to the war. There was plenty of reason in July 1945 for New Yorkers to look forward to a period peace, but their peace was shattered with a spectacular accident involving a United States Army Air Force plane and the tallest building in the world. The morning of Saturday, July 18th, 1945, the United States Army Air Force's B-25 Mitchell was flying from Bedford Army Airfield, Massachusetts to New Jersey's Newark Airport. At the controls of the plane was Lieutenant Colonel William F. Smith, Jr. The 27-year-old Smith was an experienced pilot, a veteran of more than 30 missions and a thousand combat hours flying B-17 bombers over Europe during the war. The B-25 was a twin-engine bomber, smaller than the B-17s that Smith had flown over Europe. This plane, using call sign 0577 and nicknamed Old John Feather Merchant, had been converted to fly VIPs. Smith had piloted the plane from Sioux Falls Army Air Base in South Dakota and was scheduled to pick up his commanding officer in Newark before continuing back to Sioux Falls.

He was accompanied by 30-year-old Army Air Force Staff Sergeant Christopher Dimitrovich and 19-year-old Navy Machinist mate Albert Perina, who was hitching a ride from Massachusetts to see his family in Brooklyn. As the plane approached New York City, it ran into heavy fog. Smith requested permission to land at New York's Municipal Airport LaGuardia Field but was advised that the visibility was too low and told to go on to Newark.

LaGuardia Air Traffic Control signed off with a warning about visibility in the fog. At the present time, the controller said, I cannot see the top of the Empire State Building. The words turned out to be hauntingly cryptic. Smith responded, thank you very much. It's not exactly clear what happened next, but it seems likely that Smith mistook the East River for the Hudson. That was a fatal mistake. Had he turned left as he came by the Chrysler Building, he would have been safe. But disoriented, he turned right, taking his plane straight over the island of Manhattan. Air Traffic Control had advised that he stay above 1,500 feet over the city, but apparently disoriented and thinking himself clear of the city, he had dropped to 500 feet, perhaps thinking that he was on approach to Newark or perhaps trying to get a view of the ground to orient himself. Suddenly the fog cleared just enough for Smith to realize that he was flying in the middle of skyscrapers. Stan Lomax, a radio sports announcer, was driving to work when he heard the plane's engines. As he was driving, he saw that the plane was flying in the middle of New York City.

As he looked up, he recalled he yelled, climb you fool, climb from his car window. At 200 miles per hour, the plane was on a collision course for the 850-foot RCA Building at 30 Rockefeller Center. Smith veered at the last moment, averting disaster, but the turn took him on a collision course with the tallest building on earth, New York's iconic 102-story Empire State Building.

Mort Cooper, a big league pitch who had helped the St. Louis Cardinals win two World Series, witnessed the crash from the 16th floor of the Hotel Commodore. He said, I heard the roar of a plane, picked it up as it roared between me and the RCA Building. Suddenly it flashed across my mind that it was flying very low and that it would hit the Empire State Building. The streets of downtown Manhattan were relatively empty on a foggy Saturday but there were some witnesses along Fifth Avenue and 34th Street who heard the roar of the engines. They described the plane climbing steeply.

William Utley, vice president of a public relations firm in the Mercantile Building at 10 East 40th Street, was quoted in the Scranton Pennsylvania Times Tribune. The plane went past my window at eye level or just above it. This office is on the 38th floor. The engine was apparently going and it looked like the pilot was trying to gain altitude.

Smith was apparently trying to climb out of the city but it was too late. At 9 40 a.m. old John Feather Merchant, traveling some 200 miles an hour, struck the 34th Street facade of the Empire State Building at an altitude of 913 feet between the 78th and 79th floors. Albert Fuller at the B. Altman Department Store across the street told the New York Times that the floor moved.

I looked at the clerk and I said, isn't that strange? And I thought, it couldn't be an earthquake. Harry Weiskopf on the 63rd floor of the Empire State Building said there were two terrific explosions. The whole building shook and looking out the windows facing down we could see flaming debris falling down. Daniel Norden on the 18th floor was thrown out of his chair amid the glass with four windows that were blown out in his office.

24 year old bookkeeper Althea Ledbridge was on the 72nd floor. She said, everything shook. We ran to the window and looked down. We saw flames below us. We looked up and saw flames above us.

Lethbridge walked down 70 flights of stairs in the dark. The plane ripped a hole 18 feet by 20 feet in the limestone and granite facade of the building. The Knoxville Journal of Knoxville, Tennessee reported that so tremendous was the explosion that it ripped away the fog which had hidden the topmost stories of the skyscraper.

And for two minutes the pinnacle of the chromium-girt Empire State stood out sharp and clear in the drizzle while orange-red flames looked around. Many New Yorkers feared it was an enemy attack. Miss Weiskopf said that the staff in the office feared it might have been a buzz bomb that aimed for the German V-1 rocket that had terrified England during the Blitz.

Others thought it may have been a Japanese bomb balloon like the one that had killed a Sunday school teacher and five children in Oregon in the previous May. The plane struck so hard that the wings were torn off. One engine shot through the building landing on the roof of a building on 33rd street and starting a fire that destroyed a penthouse art studio. The second engine and parts of the landing gear went down an elevator shaft were found in the basement.

The body of Albert Perna, the young Navy corpsman, was also thrown down the shaft and wasn't found until two days after the accident. He'd been headed to Brooklyn to console his family over the death of his brother, who had been killed in combat. The plane's fuel tanks ruptured and exploded sending a sheet of flame into the building. It was lucky it was a Saturday otherwise the building would have been much more crowded. On a normal day as many as 5,500 people worked in the building but that Saturday only about 1,500 were thought to be in the building. The offices where the plane struck were occupied by the War Relief Services and the National Catholic Welfare Council, both Catholic organizations dedicated to helping European refugees of the ongoing war.

Some 20 people were working in the offices that Saturday coordinating aid for war refugees throughout the world. Several of those were killed instantly by the flames, others crowded in a room hoping to escape the flames and smoke. One of those was Theresa Willig who told the New York Times, I don't think any of us had any idea what happened.

Who'd have thought a plane crowded in the room with other Catholic War Relief employees. She thought she was not going to make it. She took off her rings, a high school graduation ring and a friendship ring from her boyfriend and threw them out the window.

She said, I thought I won't be around to have them, someone else might as well have use out of them. One of the workers, a man named Paul Deering, jumped to escape the fire and was killed. 20-year-old Betty Lou Oliver was the elevator operator of elevator number six. She was on the 80th floor when the plane struck. The crash caused her to be thrown across the building, as well suffering from severe burns. Two office workers rendered first aid and placed her on an elevator to be taken to the ground floor where an ambulance was waiting. But parts of the plane had flown through the elevator shaft and had sheared off cables. When Betty was placed inside the elevator on a stretcher, the cable snapped with a sound like a shot.

Betty plummeted 75 stories. 17-year-old Donald Maloney was a Coast Guard hospital apprentice, second class. He was on 34th Street when he saw the plane crash. He rushed into a nearby pharmacy telling them he needed first aid supplies to go help.

The pharmacy gave him bandages, burn ointment, sterile water and a dozen syringes with morphine. As he ran in, someone shouted they needed help in the building's sub-basement. Maloney was small so it could fit easier into the ruined elevator shaft where a girl was screaming.

It was Betty Lou Oliver. Miraculously, after falling more than 70 stories, she was still alive. The elevator's landing was softened by the huge coils of cable that had piled up beneath it like a spring. Some experts speculate that the rapid descent might have caused air pressure to build up under the shaft, under the elevator. The rest of the elevator was ruined, full of steel shards and broken concrete, all but the corner that held Oliver.

Maloney gave her some morphine for the pain and put burnt ointment on her face and stow bandages on her burns. Her fall, some 1,000 feet, still according to the Guinness Book of World Records, holds a record for the longest survived elevator fall. To her own surprise, Theresa Fortier Willig survived. When firemen rescued she and her friends from the room she said she was just happy to be alive. She didn't suspect she'd ever see her rings again but they were discovered by rescue workers and returned to her. She ended up marrying the man who had given her the friendship ring. Betty Lou Oliver, before her 75-story plummet, had only been scheduled to work in the Empire State Building another three days. It took her eight months to recover from her injuries but she moved to Arkansas with her husband.

She had three kids, seven grandkids, passed away in 1999 at the age of 74. And a special thanks to Greg Hengler on the production and storytelling, and a special thanks to the History Guy. And if you want more stories of forgotten history, subscribe to his YouTube channel, The History Guy. History deserves to be remembered. And my goodness, this story deserves to be remembered. Many feared an enemy attack when this happened and soon found out that it was an accident.

The story of the Empire State Building B-25 crash here on Our American Stories. Fall is just around the corner and home is the center of it all. At Ashley, seasonal decorating is a breeze with their range of designs and materials. Snuggle up on a family-friendly sectional or an ultra-modern sofa or gather outside and enjoy the crisp, cool air with a new fire pit or conversation set. From minor refreshes to total overhauls, Ashley has the essentials to make your home fall functional and fabulous.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-01-16 01:04:57 / 2023-01-16 01:10:54 / 6

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