Lieutenant Colonel William F. Smith, Jr., a decorated veteran of 100 combat missions, was piloting the bomber from his home in Bedford, Massachusetts to Newark, New Jersey to pick up his commanding officer, before returning to home base in South Dakota. The flight plan called for Smith to land at LaGuardia Airport. A dense fog over the city led the air traffic controller to direct that a landing be made. Smith, however, apparently believing he could maneuver safely through the fog, asked and received permission to fly on to Newark -- on the other side of Manhattan from LaGuardia. The last thing the air traffic controller told Smith was, 'At the present time, I can't see the top of the Empire State Building.'
The War Department, now a section of the Defense Department, later determined the pilot erred in judgment when electing to fly over Manhattan in the weather conditions which prevailed at the time' -- Smith should never have been cleared to proceed on to Newark. Disoriented by the dense fog, he apparently believed he was on Manhattan's west side.
Smith's final blunder came when he passed the Chrysler Building. Had he kicked the left rudder, he would have been safe; instead, he went right rudder and directly on a path to the Empire State Building. At 200 miles per hour, the unarmed trainer bomber screamed down 42nd Street and banked south over 5th Avenue. The pilot tried desperately to climb, but it was too late. At 9:40 that Saturday morning, the B-25 slammed into the 79th floor of the Empire State Building.
Luckily, the accident occurred on a weekend, with only about 1,500 people in the building -- compared with the 10,000-15,000 on an average weekday. Still, 14 died in the accident -- 11 in the building, plus Colonel Smith and the other two occupants of the plane. Hardest hit was the Catholic War Relief Office on the 79th floor, directly in the path of the bomber. Eight Catholic War Relief Office workers were killed.ESB