“I Can’t See the Top of the Empire State Building”

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Today is Patriot Day, marking 14 years since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the loss of Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The 9/11 Memorial, Pentagon Memorial and the Flight 93 National Memorial all serve to help heal our wounds by remembering and honoring the dead. Standing at a symbolic 1,776 ft., One World Trade Center is a testament to the resilience and tenacity of the American people.

Perhaps not so well known, was a plane crash in another iconic Manhattan tower, the Empire State Building, on July 28, 1945. Lieutenant Colonel William F. Smith, Jr., was flying a B-25 bomber from Bedford, Massachusetts, to Newark, New Jersey, to pick up his commanding officer before flying to home base in South Dakota. Despite heavy fog, Smith received permission to fly over Manhattan. The last thing the air traffic controller said to Smith was, “At the present time, I can’t see the top of the Empire State Building.” The bomber crashed into the 79th floor. Fourteen people died in the crash.

Betty Lou Oliver, an elevator operator working in an elevator in the Empire State Building at the time, survived the crash with minor injuries. Paramedics took her into another elevator whose cables, unbeknownst to them, had been weakened. The cables snapped and the elevator plunged 75 stories, 1,000 ft., with 10,000 lb. of severed iron cables following. Oliver miraculously survived the fall.

ELEVATOR WORLD featured an in-depth article, “Plane Hits Building: Woman Survives 75-Story Fall” by William Roberts, published in the March 1996 issue. It includes an extensive first-hand account of the repair work by an anonymous Otis Elevator Company supervisor. You can read it for free by filling out our Research form. Enter promo code “ESB 1945” in the Research Request field.¬†An e-mail will then be sent to you during our business hours containing a PDF of the article.

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