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Empire State Building hit by airplane

Sixty-nine years ago, on July 28, 1945, a U.S. Army bomber crashed into the 79th floor of the Empire State Building, the tallest structure in New York City, killing 14 people and causing about $1 million in damages. The freak accident was caused by a thick fog.

The B-25 Mitchell aircraft, the Old John Feather Merchant, with two pilots and a passenger, was flying from New Bedford, Mass., to LaGuardia Airport in New York. The fog was heavy, so air-traffic controllers instructed it to land at Newark Airport.

Warned that the Empire State Building was not visible, the crew then swerved to avoid hitting the Chrysler Building, but this move sent it straight into the north side of the Empire State Building, near the 79th floor, at 9:49 a.m.

The jet fuel exploded, filling the inside of the building with flames down to the 75th floor and sending them out of the hole in the side. The resulting fire was extinguished in 40 minutes. One of the plane's engines smashed through the building and landed in a penthouse apartment across the street. Other airplane parts ended up embedded in and on top of nearby buildings.

The other engine snapped an elevator cable while a woman was riding in the elevator. The emergency auto brake saved her from plunging to the bottom, but the engine fell down the shaft and landed on top of it. Rescuers pulled her from the elevator, saving her life after a plunge of 75 stories, the Guinness world record for the longest survived elevator drop.

The three people on the airplane were killed, as were 11 in the building, all workers from the War Relief Services department of the National Catholic Welfare Conference, into whose offices the plane crashed. An 18-foot by 20-foot hole was left in the side of the famous building.

The Empire State Building was open for business on most floors the following Monday. The crash helped spur the passage of the Federal Tort Claims Act, as well as the insertion of retroactive provisions into the law allowing people to sue the government for the accident.

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