Flying down from New Bedford, Mass., Lieut. Colonel William Franklin Smith Jr., D.F.C., Air Medal and Croix de Guerre, found LaGuardia Field all right. After he had let his two engined B-25 bomber down under a 900-ft. ceiling he radioed for permission to go on to Newark. LaGuardia approved, warned him of low visibility (about two miles), concluded, "We're unable to see the top of the Em pire State Building."
"Roger," said West Pointer Smith and headed across New York City. He was flying Old John Feather Merchant barely under the thick cloud layer.
Thunder in the Street. In Manhattan, a few minutes before 10 a.m., workers in the midtown towers heard a plane close by very close. It thundered past the stark, stone structures of Rockefeller Center. On the streets below, pedestrians startled by the low-flying craft looked up, saw Old John Feather Merchant barely miss a 60-floor building at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. Then the craft, southbound, pulled up into the cloud.
On the 75th floor of the Empire State Building a man heard the throbbing motors, turned quickly to the window, as he had many times before when planes passed. Coming straight at him out of the fog was a twin-engined bomber. It was banking slightly to the left.
Perhaps at that instant Lieut. Colonel Smith, veteran of 1,000 combat hours, caught a split-second glimpse of the massive grey structure, and tried to pull away.
Flame & Rubble. It was too late. In the next instant there happened what many a Manhattanite had often predicted and feared. The ten-ton airplane, flying at an estimated speed of 225 m.p.h., crashed head-on into the north side of the Empire State Building at the level of the 78th and 79th floors.
The world's tallest building shuddered through its 1,250 feet and down through its sub-street depths. A great roar burst from its high-rearing ribs.
The bomber gored through the thick steel and stone of the building as if they were papier-mâché. Then, in a flash of flame, the gasoline tanks exploded. In another instant flames leaped and seeped inside & outside the building.
Bright fire gushed from the 18-ft. wound in the structure's side, reached for the topmost observation tower on the 102nd floor. Gasoline fumes popped in flash explosions four and five floors below. Thick, acrid smoke billowed above & below, soon filled the upper floors.
Red gasoline ran into elevator shafts and exploded. Parts of the plane sheared elevator cables, and one elevator fell. One of the plane's engines crashed into an elevator shaft, screeched 79 floors, fell on the cab, carried it down to wreckage in the basement. The other engine and other heavy parts ripped through seven inner walls, then tore a hole in the south side of the building90 feet from the point of crash. The wreckage fell in a sculptor's 12th-floor penthouse studio in a building across the street, caused another fire.
On the streets, 913 feet below the crash area, jagged bits of wings, hunks of metal and stone fell as far as five blocks away.