Conditions were growing worse as the steady rain quickly changed over to a dense fog with visibility near zero at altitudes higher than 2,000 feet. Now over Manhattan, but losing his approach vector to Newark, Smith lowered the plane to regain his bearings. The B-25 suddenly found itself in New York City‘s famed canyon of skyscrapers, flying at less than 900 feet, and Smith also realized that he was on a collision course with one of these skyscrapers: the New York Central Building. He quickly banked to the west, (putting more drag on the plane and reducing its speed and maneuverability at such a low altitude) and was able miss that building, but also putting himself in line with another skyscraper and then another…until the Empire State Building loomed dead ahead.
At 9:49 a.m., as people on the ground watched in stunned disbelief and fear, the doomed plane struck the north side of the Empire State Building at nearly 200 mph, tearing a hole 18 feet wide and twenty feet high from its point of impact at the 79th floor. Its high-octane fuel tanks exploded and poured flames and pieces of wreckage along the sides of the building, through offices areas, and down hallways and stairwells. Several office workers were killed instantly, reduced to charred remains still seated at their desks. Smith, his two crew members, and 11 people working at their desks were killed; over two dozen more were injured. The workers were on the staff of the National Catholic Welfare Service, now known as Catholic Relief Services.
“Thought we’d been bombed,” Doris Pope, Boynton Beach, Fl. told the The Palm Beach Post in 1999. “I worked for the Office of Office of Price Administration in the Empire State Building. That day, as we were getting ready to take our coffee break, we heard this terrible noise, and the building started to shake. … As we looked out our third-floor window, we saw debris fall on to the street. We immediately thought New York was being bombed.” ABC News
New York City would’ve had no idea what was to occur 56 years later.