North American B-25 Mitchell Bomber Flight (plane crash)

North American B-25 Mitchell Bomber Flight. Plane crash on 28 of July of 1945 when a military plane North American B-25 Mitchell piloted by Lieutenant Colonel William Franklin Smith , a hero of World War II , crashed into the landmark building Empire State . The collision generated material losses valued at a million dollars of the time. Inside the skyscraper, 11 deaths were reported and a man who, desperate, jumped into the void through a window on the 79th floor to try to escape the fire, which required 40 minutes to be put down, a record for the time.

The facts

The 28 of July of 1945 , at 08:55 am on Lieutenant Colonel William Franklin Smith , 27 years old, received from his superiors the mission to move its aircraft from the airbase Bedford in Massachusetts , to Newark , in New Jersey . Smith had honors such as the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal and the War Cross, all conferred for his courageous performance over 18 months in the world conflict, where he took part in nearly 50 combat missions over Germany and France .

He was accompanied on the flight by Sergeant Christopher Domitrovich, 31; and a last-minute passenger: the young soldier Albert Perna, who went to meet his parents to share with them the grief over the loss of his only brother, who had been killed a day earlier on the Pacific front by a Japanese kamikaze attack against the destroyer USS Luce.

An hour had passed since takeoff when Smith received a warning from the control tower of Queens Airport, in New York, in which they notified him:

“There is fog in the Manhattan area and visibility is only two miles.”

They advised him not to continue his journey to Newark and to land in Queens, to avoid flying over the crowded residential area.

Smith acknowledged receipt of the message, but ignored the advice and resolved to proceed to Newark. Confident in his professional expertise, he opted for flying by eye (a navigation technique in which the pilot estimates the position of the aircraft based on visual recognition of the terrain, whether of facilities or geographical features ).

It is conjectured that when approaching the island of Manhattan, Smith took as a wrong reference some construction that made him intuit the proximity of the Newark runway. Then he lowered the landing gear. Horrified New Yorkers watched as the plane, which was flying just 150 meters above the street, headed for the crowded Fifth Avenue, ignoring the ban on flying over New York at less than 2,000 feet.

A publication of the time described those dramatic moments like this:

“Suddenly the bomber descended from the clouds and found himself trapped between the concrete trap made up of the tall skyscrapers in the center of the city. He managed to avoid Grand Central at the height of the 22nd floor. Then he wriggled with heart attack maneuvers through the labyrinth of buildings, which were crossed everywhere ”

Smith desperately tried to gain height. But it was too late. At 9:49 am, the plane, weighing more than ten tons and at a speed of 360 km / h, crashed between the 79th and 80th floors of the Empire State Building.

After investigations in the area of ​​the accident, experts from the United States Department of Defense concluded that, apparently, “the pilot did not calculate well when he decided to fly over Manhattan in such bad environmental conditions.”


The impact opened a hole twenty feet wide by twenty feet tall. One wing fell onto 34th Street. The other was projected onto Madison Avenue. Fuselage debris was found within a four-block radius.

In addition to destroying everything in its path inside the two affected levels, it blew up the 800 gallons of high-octane fuel that crammed its tanks, which, when in contact with the building’s domestic gas, unleashed a fire of colossal proportions. One of the engines of the device, weighing 1,200 kilograms, went to the basement through an elevator shaft. He left behind a trail of burning gasoline. The other engine, and part of the landing gear, pierced the skyscraper side-to-side, exited its southern façade, and landed on a sculptor’s attic on the 13th floor of the Waldorf building opposite.

All three occupants of the bomber were killed on the spot. Inside the skyscraper, 11 deaths were reported, including six women who were participating in a conference on Catholic social assistance in times of war, and a man who, desperate, jumped into the void through a window on the 79th floor, clearly trying to escape from the fire, which took 40 minutes to put out, a record for the time.

The list of deceased could have been much longer. Only that, fortunately, it all happened on a Saturday, and there were barely 1,500 people in the building out of the 15,000 who used to occupy it on normal working days. The workers on the upper floors, as well as some 60 visitors who were in the observatory on the 86th floor, were rescued safely by the fire escape.

In the avenues adjacent to the Empire State Building, the incident did not cause any serious damage, despite being located in one of the busiest and busiest areas on the planet. The rescuers counted just a score of injured amid the rain of fire and debris.

The collision generated material losses valued at a million dollars of the time.


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