– PEOPLE WORTH REMEMBERING –

Betty Lou Oliver was 20 when she reported to work at the Empire State Building on July 28, 1945. She was an elevator operator in what was, at the time, the world’s tallest building. Betty was in charge of Elevator #6 out of the 73 in the building. This was her last day at work. As a newlywed, she took the job when her husband went off to war, but now he was coming home. They had plans to move to Fort Smith, Arkansas.

• That same day, Lieutenant Colonel William Franklin Smith was the pilot in a B-25 Mitchell bomber. He had flown many combat missions during the war. Today he was on a routine mission, flying the ten-ton bomber at 225 mph (360 km/h) from Massachusetts to New York. Besides the pilot, there were two other people on board.

• It was a very foggy morning. Smith radioed LaGuardia that he was coming in for a landing, only to be told visibility was near zero, and he should go to the Newark, New Jersey airport instead. He ignored the advice. He became disoriented in the fog, banking right instead of left as he flew by the Chrysler Building. The Empire State Building stood 1,250 feet (381 m) tall; Smith was below that.

• At 9:30 a.m., the plane crashed into the north side of the Empire State Building, in between the 78th and 80th floors. Fuel immediately burst into flame, igniting the building and engulfing the plane. All three people on the bomber died, as well as 11 people inside the building. Both the wings sheared off and fell to the ground, scattering debris as far as five blocks away. One of the engines continued into the building and crashed to the bottom of an elevator shaft. Another engine proceeded all the way through the building, crashing through seven walls, and landing on the roof of the 17-story building next door. On its way through, that engine damaged three elevators.

Zinn Music Shop

Betty Lou was on the 80th floor of the 102-floor building when the plane crashed. She was thrown out of the elevator, burned by the fireball. Rescuers loaded her into another elevator, expecting ambulance attendants to meet her in the lobby.

• The damaged elevator cables snapped. Betty Lou Oliver plummeted 75 floors to the basement, a distance of 1,000 feet (300 m). Several things worked in her favor that day. First, the severed cables fell to the ground, landing in a spring-like coil that eased the landing. Second, the elevator shaft was nearly airtight, and the falling cab compressed the air as it hurtled downwards, cushioning the fall.

• Still, Betty landed with enough force to shatter legs, pelvis, neck, and spine. She had to wait hours to be cut out of the wreckage.

• After four months in the hospital, Betty Lou left the hospital and was able to walk, with braces and crutches, five feet (1.5 m) from her wheelchair to a waiting car. A month later, she returned to the Empire State Building, taking an elevator all the way to the top, where she was celebrated for her bravery. Soon, Betty Lou Oliver and her husband moved to Fort Smith, Arkansas, as planned. He became a service manager and she raised three kids. When she died in 1999 at the age of 74, she left seven grandchildren behind and was buried in Fort Smith next to her husband.

• The crash killed 14 people and injured about 25. Because it was a rainy Saturday, few people were in the Empire State Building at the time, and few people were on the streets when debris fell. Firemen controlled the fire within an hour, which still retains the record for the highest structural fire to be controlled by firefighters. Most of the building, which escaped structural damage, was open for business by Monday morning. And Betty Lou Oliver’s fall still holds the world record for the longest elevator fall ever survived.