On This Day U.S. B-25 bomber hits Empire State Building in heavy fog

Julian Gavaghan
British Pathé

JULY 28, 1945: A plane crashed into New York’s Empire State Building during heavy fog on this day in 1945 – an accident that foreshadowed the 9/11 terror attacks half a century later.

The U.S. Army B-25 Mitchell bomber, piloted by Lieutenant Colonel William Smith, set seven floors ablaze at the top of what was then the world’s tallest skyscraper.

A total of 14 people – including three crewmen - died when the nine-ton plane hit the 79th floor of the north side of the 1,454ft-tall building, creating a 20ft wide hole.

Luckily, unlike the World Trade Center attack when Al Qaeda terrorists flew two airliners into the Twin Towers in 2001, the Empire State remained standing.

[On This Day fighting in the Korean War ended after three years of conflict]

A British Pathé newsreel shows the Midtown Manhattan landmark smoking at the top while astonished crowds looked up from the streets down below.

Lt Col Smith, who was flying across New York to pick up his commanding officer in New Jersey, hit the skyscraper after descending in thick fog to regain visibility.

He realised that he was flying in the middle of Manhattan and was surrounded by skyscrapers and tried to pull up.

Ominously, the last transmission from the nearest air traffic control tower to Smith warned: “From where I'm sitting, I can't see the top of the Empire State Building.”

He tried to pull up, but hit the Empire State at 9.49am, causing tons of fuel to explode and send flames bursting through offices, stairwells and hallways.

The death toll might have been smaller but for the fact that the U.S. was still fighting World War Two and many Americans worked six-day weeks during the conflict.

Survivor Catherine O'Connor described the moment the plane burst through the offices of  War Relief Services of the National Catholic Welfare Conference.

She said: “The plane exploded within the building.

“There were five or six seconds - I was tottering on my feet trying to keep my balance - and three-quarters of the office was instantaneously consumed in this sheet of flame.

“One man was standing inside the flame. I could see him. It was a co-worker, Joe Fountain. His whole body was on fire.

“I kept calling to him, ‘Come on, Joe; come on, Joe.’ He walked out of it.”

Mr Fountain, who died several days later, was one of 11 office workers who were burned to death, with some still sitting at their desks as flames engulfed them.

The building cost $1million to repair.

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