The B-25 Mitchell bomber, with Colonel William Smith as a pilot and two more personnel aboard, was flying from New Bedford, Massachusetts, to LaGuardia Airport in New York City. As it came into the metropolitan area on that Saturday morning, the fog was particularly thick. Air-traffic controllers instructed the plane to fly to Newark Airport instead. The last transmission from the LaGuardia tower to the plane was a foreboding warning: “From where I’m sitting, I can’t see the top of the Empire State Building.” Confronted with dense fog, pilot dropped the bomber low to regain visibility, where Smith found himself in the middle of Manhattan, surrounded by skyscrapers. At first, the bomber was headed directly for the New York Central Building but at the last minute, Smith was able to bank west and miss it. Unfortunately, this put him in line for another skyscraper. Smith managed to miss several skyscrapers until he was headed for the Empire State Building. At the last minute, Smith tried to get the bomber to climb and twist away, but it was too late. At 9:49 a.m., the ten-ton, B-25 bomber smashed into the north side of the Empire State Building, near the 79th floor.
Upon impact, the plane’s jet fuel exploded, filling the interior of the building with flames all the way down to the 75th floor and sending flames out of the hole the plane had ripped open in the building’s side. One engine from the plane went straight through the building and landed in a penthouse apartment across the street. Other plane parts ended up embedded in and on top of nearby buildings. The other engine snapped an elevator cable while at least one woman was riding in the elevator car. The emergency auto brake saved the woman from crashing to the bottom, but the engine fell down the shaft and landed on top of it. Quick-thinking rescuers pulled the woman from the elevator, saving her life. Since it was a Saturday, fewer workers than normal were in the building. Only 11 people in the building were killed, some suffering burns from the fiery jet fuel and others after being thrown out of the building. The three people on the plane were also killed. An 18 foot by 20 foot hole was left in the side of the Empire State Building. However its structural integrity was not affected.