How a woman survived a 75-floor elevator fall after a plane crashed into the Empire State Building

The September 11, 2001, tragedy of the Twin Towers in New York City was not the first time a plane crashed into a New York skyscraper: a previous incident in 1945 was tragic and miraculous at the same time.

On July 28th of that year, William F. Smith, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Air Forces, was trying to land his B-25 bomber at Newark airport when he became disoriented in low cloud. He narrowly missed hitting the Chrysler building, but unfortunately slammed into the seventy-ninth floor of the Empire State Building. Fourteen people were killed in the accident and ensuing fireball. However, the crash is also remembered for an unusual tale of survival. It's the story of an elevator operator who fell seventy-five floors and lived to tell about it.

The story was recounted by another bomber pilot, Col. Robert Morgan (ret.), in his 2001 autobiography ("The Man Who Flew the Memphis Belle: Memoir of a WWII Bomber Pilot"):
"Just as in war, the crash produced its surreal acts of fate. A badly burned woman named Betty Lou Oliver was given first aid and placed in an elevator car to descend to street level. The weakened cable snapped and the woman plunged seventy-five floors... The rapidly falling car created an air cushion that slowed its descent as it neared bottom, and the steel cable underneath the car piled up, turning into a giant coiled spring that further absorbed the impact."
Five months later, the woman felt well enough to return to the scene of the accident and courageously took a ride back up in one of the elevators.

Not the kind of story one reads every day.


For more information, read the full account of the accident here.

Details about the elevator crash and repairs are found in this article from an industry trade magazine.

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