Decades before the terror attacks of 2001 struck New York City, another, very different plane crashed into the Empire State Building, arguably one of New York City’s — America’s —most iconic buildings. It was July 1945, and it wasn’t terrorism or even an attack from the Japanese Empire (with which America was still at war).
The aircraft flight plan indicated the plane was coming from Massachusetts and would land at La Guardia. Instead the pilot decided to land in Newark but got lost in the heavy fog while flying over Manhattan. Believing he was on the West Side of the island, he flew to the right instead of the left when he went around the Chrysler Building. That was his fatal error.
According to a 1995 story in the New York Times, Lt. Col. William F. Smith Jr. heard from the tower at La Guardia airport that the top of the Empire State Building wasn’t visible in the fog. Minutes later, he hit the iconic skyscraper between its 78th and 79th floors at 200 miles per hour.
The crash blew an 18-by-20-foot hole 913 feet above 34th Street. It’s tail section was stuck in the hole in the building.
Luckily, the bomber was an unarmed trainer aircraft with no bombs on board. The explosions that rocked the area came from the B-25’s fuel tanks exploding.
“It was as if a bomb went off,” said harpsichordist Albert Fuller, who was shopping across from the Empire State Building that day. “The floor moved. I looked at the clerk and said, ‘Isn’t that strange?’ And I thought it couldn’t be an earthquake.”
Fourteen people died, all told; the three bomber crewmembers and 11 people working in the building that day.