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Context of 'July 28, 1945: Empire State Building Is Struck by a US Army B-25 Bomber'

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Crash by a US Army B-25 bomber on July 28, 1945.Crash by a US Army B-25 bomber on July 28, 1945. [Source: NPR]A B-25 bomber crashes into the Empire State Building in New York City, causing 14 deaths. Lieutenant Colonel William Franklin Smith Jr. is piloting the B-25 Mitchell bomber on a routine personnel transport mission from Boston to LaGuardia Airport. He asks for clearance to land, but is advised of zero visibility. Proceeding anyway, he is disoriented by fog and starts turning right instead of left after passing the Chrysler Building. At 9:40 a.m., the plane crashes into the north side of the Empire State Building, between the 78th and 80th floors, carving an 18-foot hole in the building where the offices of the National Catholic Welfare Council are located. One engine shoots through the side opposite the impact. It flies as far as the next block where it lands on the roof of a nearby building and starts a fire that destroys a penthouse. The other engine and part of the landing gear plummet down an elevator shaft. The resulting fire is extinguished in 40 minutes. It is the only fire at such a height that is ever successfully controlled. Fourteen people are killed in the incident and one person is injured. Despite the damage and loss of life, the building opens for business on many floors the following Monday. The crash helps spur the passage of the long-pending Federal Tort Claims Act of 1946, allowing people to sue the government for the accident. [National Public Radio, 7/28/2008]

Entity Tags: William Franklin Smith Jr., Empire State Building

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A B-29 bomber similar to the one that crashed in Georgia.A B-29 bomber similar to the one that crashed in Georgia. [Source: Global Security (.org)]A test flight for the Air Force’s Project Banshee, located at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia, is set for 8:30 a.m. Banshee is an attempt begun in 1946 to develop and deploy a long-range missile ahead of both the Soviet Union and rival US military branches. The airplane used in the test flight crashes less than an hour into its flight, killing 9 of the 13 aboard.
Maintenance Problems - The plane assigned for the flight is a B-29 Stratofortress, a bomber made famous by its delivery of the atomic bombs to Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. B-29s are notoriously difficult to fly and maintain: their four wing-mounted engines almost routinely overheat and catch fire, causing engine shutdowns, sudden drops in altitude, and, often, crashes. The engines’ eighteen cylinders lack sufficient airflow to keep them cool, and the overheating often causes the crankcases, made of light but highly flammable magnesium, to burst into flames. Like so many of its brethren, the plane has suffered its share of maintenance issues, and is flying without numerous recommended maintenance and repair tasks being performed. Just five days before, it had been designated “red cross”—grounded and unfit for service. It was allowed to fly through an “exceptional release” signed by the squadron commander.
Crew Difficulties - The flight is moved back to the afternoon after some crew members fail to show up on time, and to allow last-minute repairs to be made. By takeoff, the flight crew is assembled: Captain Ralph Erwin; co-pilot Herbert W. Moore; flight engineer Earl Murrhee; First Lieutenant Lawrence Pence, Jr, the navigator; Sergeant Walter Peny, the left scanner; Sergeant Jack York, the right scanner; Sergeant Melvin Walker, the radio operator; and Sergeant Derwood Irvin, manning the bombsight and autopilot. The crew is joined by civilian engineers assigned to Banshee: Al Palya and Robert Reynolds from RCA, William Brauner and Eugene Mechler from the Franklin Institute, and Richard Cox from the Air Force’s Air Materiel Command. In violation of standard procedure, none of the crew or the civilians are briefed on emergency procedures, though Murrhee will later say that the crew were all familiar with the procedures; he is not so sure about the civilians, though he knows Palya and Reynolds have flown numerous test flights before. In another violation of Air Force regulations, none of the flight crew have worked together before. As author Barry Siegel will note in 2008, “The pilot, copilot, and engineer had never shared the same cockpit before.”
Engine Fire and Crash - Less than an hour into the flight, one engine catches fire and two others lose power, due to a combination of maintenance failures and pilot errors. The civilians have some difficulty getting into their parachutes as Erwin and Moore attempt to regain control of the aircraft. Four of the crew and civilians manage to parachute from the plane, but most remain on board as the airplane spirals into the ground on the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp, near Waycross, Georgia. Crew members Moore, Murrhee, and Peny survive, as does a single civilian, Mechler. Four others either jump at too low an altitude or die when their chutes foul the airplane; the other five never manage to leave the plane and die on impact.
Widows File Suit - Several of the civilians’ widows will file suit against the US Air Force, asserting that their husbands died because of Air Force negligence (see June 21, 1949). Their lawsuit will eventually become US v. Reynolds, a landmark Supreme Court case and the underpinning for the government’s claims of state secrets privilege (see March 9, 1953). [Siegel, 2008, pp. 3, 14-17, 33-49]

Entity Tags: Derwood Irvin, Barry Siegel, US Department of the Air Force, Walter Peny, William Brauner, Air Materiel Command, Richard Cox, Ralph Erwin, Robert Reynolds, Al Palya, Radio Corporation of America, Eugene Mechler, Earl Murrhee, Franklin Institute, Project Banshee, Melvin Walker, Lawrence Pence, Jr, Herbert W. Moore, Jr, Jack York

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

A 1968 advert with an artist’s rendition of a plane hitting the WTC.A 1968 advert with an artist’s rendition of a plane hitting the WTC. [Source: Committee for a Reasonable World Trade Center]A civic group opposed to the building of the World Trade Center publishes a nearly full-page advertisement in the New York Times, warning that the new buildings will be so tall that a commercial airliner might crash into them. The group, called the Committee for a Reasonable World Trade Center, is mainly composed of New York real estate developers who are worried that the huge construction project will glut the market. Its leader is Lawrence A. Wien, a real estate mogul who is an owner of the Empire State Building in New York. [New York Times Magazine, 9/8/2002; New York Times Magazine, 9/8/2002] In July 1945, a B-25 Army bomber struck the Empire State Building, killing 14 people. [New York Times, 2/26/1981] The committee’s advertisement shows an artist’s rendition of a large jet plane about to strike one of the proposed towers. [New York Times Magazine, 9/8/2002; New York Times Magazine, 9/8/2002]

Entity Tags: Lawrence A. Wien

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

FBI agent Stephen E. Smith testifies in the trial of accused Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and November 3, 1997).
Nichols Told of Picking Up McVeigh - Smith testifies that Nichols told him and other FBI agents that on Easter Sunday, April 16, 1995, three days before the bombing, he drove around downtown Oklahoma City looking for his alleged co-conspirator, convicted bomber Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997 and June 11-13, 1997). Nichols, says Smith, drove around the Murrah Federal Building, McVeigh’s target, several times before finding McVeigh in a nearby alley (see April 16-17, 1995). McVeigh, according to what Nichols told Smith, had asked Nichols for a ride from Oklahoma City back to Nichols’s Herington, Kansas, home (see (February 20, 1995)) because his car had broken down. Nichols found McVeigh, Smith says: “[H]e was standing in a light rain with Mr. Nichols’s TV set and a green laundry bag.” Smith was one of the agents who interrogated Nichols for nine hours after the bombing (see 3:15 p.m. and After, April 21-22, 1995). He was not allowed to testify in McVeigh’s trial, but was allowed to introduce the 22 pages of handwritten notes taken during Nichols’s interrogation. Smith’s testimony is the first to describe what Nichols said about the trip from Oklahoma City to Herington. McVeigh was going to bring Nichols a television set, Nichols told Smith, when his car broke down. Nichols said after he received the telephone call from McVeigh at around 3 p.m., he left about 10 minutes later and drove straight to Oklahoma City. McVeigh had told him to “drive around the block a couple times,” Nichols told the agents, and added that he passed “that building” several times. The alley McVeigh was standing in was, Smith testifies, next to the YMCA near the Murrah Building. Nichols told Smith and the other agents that McVeigh was “hyper” during the return trip to Herington, and they talked about the upcoming anniversary of the federal assault on the Branch Davidian compound in Texas (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After). Nichols told the agents that McVeigh told him “he would see something big in the future.” Nichols, Smith testifies, asked if McVeigh was planning to rob a bank; McVeigh replied, “No, but I’ve got something in the works.” Nichols was shocked to learn that McVeigh was a suspect in the bombing, Smith testifies: “He thought Tim was driving back east to see his family.” Nichols told the agents he could not discern any motive for the bombing, since McVeigh “was supposed to receive an inheritance from his grandfather and he would have money” to do whatever he wanted. Smith testifies that when the agents asked Nichols if he was worried about what McVeigh might say about him, Nichols replied that “he’d be shocked if Mr. McVeigh implicated him.… Terry Nichols said he trusted Timothy McVeigh more than anyone. Timothy McVeigh lived up to his arrangements and took responsibility for his actions.” Smith adds that Nichols never clarified what he meant. Nichols told the agents that the Easter telephone call was the first contact he had had with McVeigh since November 1994. However, other testimony has shown numerous contacts between McVeigh and Nichols since that time period (see November 7, 1994, March 1995, April 13, 1995, April 15, 1995, and April 15-16, 1995). [New York Times, 11/21/1997] Nichols also told federal agents that he spent the morning of April 18 at an auction in Fort Riley, Kansas, and that the same morning, McVeigh had borrowed his pickup truck to run errands. Nichols told agents that the morning of April 18, McVeigh called at 6:00 a.m. and asked to borrow the truck. Nichols agreed, and the two met at a McDonald’s restaurant in Junction City, Kansas, around 7:30 a.m. The two drove to the auction site, and McVeigh took the truck, leaving Nichols at the auction. McVeigh returned after 1:00 p.m. Nichols told agents he signed in at the auction site sometime around noon. [New York Times, 11/26/1997]
Story Contradicted by Other Evidence - Other evidence has shown that Nichols’s story about driving to Oklahoma City to pick up McVeigh and a television set is false. That evidence has shown that on April 16, Nichols met McVeigh at a Dairy Queen in Herington, then the two drove separately to Oklahoma City to scout the location for the bomb. McVeigh left his getaway car at the scene (see April 13, 1995) and the two drove back to Herington in Nichols’s pickup truck (see April 16-17, 1995). On the morning of April 18, McVeigh, staying at a motel in Junction City with his rented Ryder truck (see April 15, 1995), met Nichols at a Herington storage unit (see (February 20, 1995)). The two loaded bags of fertilizer and drums of nitromethane into the Ryder truck, and McVeigh told Nichols, “If I don’t come back for a while, you’ll clean out the storage shed.” They drove separately to Geary County State Fishing Lake, where they met and mixed the explosive components. Nichols later told investigators that he cleaned out the storage shed on April 20. One witness told investigators that he saw McVeigh with a man resembling Nichols at the motel. Other witnesses recalled seeing the Ryder truck parked behind Nichols’s house on April 17, and the Ryder truck and a pickup truck resembling Nichols’s at Geary Lake on April 18. Other witnesses said that on either April 17 or 18, they saw what appeared to be Nichols’s pickup truck parked behind the Herington storage shed (see 5:00 a.m. April 18, 1995 and 8:15 a.m. and After, April 18, 1995). Videotape from the Regency Towers Apartments, one and a half blocks from the bombed Murrah Federal Building, showed Nichols’s dark blue pickup with a white camper shell passing the building on April 16, though the videotape does not itself disprove Nichols’s claims of driving to Oklahoma City to pick up McVeigh and a television set. [Denver Post, 12/24/1997; Fox News, 4/13/2005] Prosecutors will soon submit evidence showing that Nichols’s claims of his whereabouts on April 18 are incorrect (see November 25, 1997).
Shared Interest in Bombs - Nichols also said that he and McVeigh were curious about bombs. They read books and magazines about them, and discussed how they worked. Nichols told the agents that “it’s possible he [McVeigh] could make a device to blow up a building without my knowledge.” Nichols, Smith testifies, insisted that their interest in bombs was strictly out of curiosity. Nichols told Smith and the other agents that he had learned about explosives from people “who came by the table at gun shows and literature he had read.” Nichols also said that he had learned “ammonium nitrate fertilizer can be used to make a bomb.… I imagine you have to put a blasting cap on it.” Smith testifies that someone had informed Nichols that ammonium nitrate could be mixed with diesel fuel to make a bomb, but adds that Nichols said he had not done that.
Cross-Examination - Nichols’s defense lawyer, Ronald G. Woods, has Smith read the entire 22-page sheaf of handwritten notes he took during his interviews with Nichols, then tells Judge Richard P. Matsch that the typewritten transcript of those notes “was not accurate or complete.” Woods also questions why the interviews were not tape-recorded. Smith calls his notes accurate, but admits that he had not written down what he now testifies was Nichols’s silence when shown a letter he had written to McVeigh the previous November urging him to “Go for it.” During the interview, Smith says Nichols admitted to having the knowledge needed to build a fertilizer bomb after initially denying it. [Washington Post, 11/21/1997; New York Times, 11/22/1997; Denver Post, 12/24/1997]

Entity Tags: Geary State Fishing Lake And Wildlife Area, Murrah Federal Building, Ronald G. Woods, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Richard P. Matsch, Terry Lynn Nichols, Stephen E. Smith, Timothy James McVeigh

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Responding to recent comments by evangelist Franklin Graham that questioned President Obama’s US citizenship (see April 24-25, 2011), Fox News anchor Shepard Smith tells his viewers: “Fox News can confirm that the president of the United States is a citizen of the United States. Period.” Smith refers viewers to the validated copy of Obama’s birth certificate that has been available for years (see June 13, 2008) before making the assertion that Fox confirms Obama’s US citizenship. [Media Matters, 4/25/2011; Business Insider, 4/26/2011]

Entity Tags: Donald Trump, Barack Obama, Shepard Smith, Franklin Graham, Fox News

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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