New York City was shrouded in a fog understood by few. To New York’s teeming millions the mist remained mysterious. To some the vapor brought a smile, others a frown but always it was sure to bring a reaction. Here is one such reaction to fog that is sure to make you think again about the dangers of traveling through the mist.
On July 28, 1945, there was no such thing as a, “no fly zone.” If a plane was able to fly somewhere, it did. Most certainly unwisely, Lieutenant Colonel William F. Smith, Jr. with two crew members ducked below the fog. Flying under 1000 feet above the ground he dodged Manhattan skyscrapers left and right. Smith, headed to Newark airport to pick up his commanding officer, decided to push on instead of to land. His inability to see through the dense moisture caused him to make a fatal mistake.
Around 9:40, Saturday morning, he passed the Chrysler Building at 200 mph and turned the wrong way. With no time to react, the Empire State Building suddenly loomed scant feet from the B-25 Mitchell bomber. Smith desperately tried to change direction but he’d already set a collision course with the building that could not be undone. In half a heartbeat, his stopped when he crashed into the north side of the building between the 78th the 79th floors.
Inside, Betty Lou Oliver, an elevator attendant on the 80th floor, waited impatiently for the day to end. It was her last day working there. She’d seen the Navy ships enter the harbor that morning and knew her husband was home. She was quitting to starting a new life with him.
These thoughts of joy were quickly shattered when the 10 ton B-25 crashed into the building cutting an 18 foot wide by 20 foot high hole into the face of the Empire State Building. The collision and following explosion a floor below her, violently threw Betty Lou from her post were she lay amongst the wreckage of building and plane with the pilot, two crew members and 12 others. She alone had survived.
Burnt and afraid she waited for help to come. Finally they came. The kind workers, who’d made it to her high loft a 5th of a mile above street level, gave her first aid and promised her everything would be all right. They’d called an ambulance for her and it was waiting. To avoid the commotion already taking place on the 1,575 steps of the double landing stairwells, they opted instead to place her in an elevator. The doors closed and for 5 stories everything was normal.
Then, weakened from the Mitchell’s crash, the elevator’s cables snapped. Betty Lou screamed frantically as she helplessly plummeted down 1,000 feet and 75 stories into the subbasement. Trapped again, she lay helpless, waiting. Aside from the burns she’d received, she now had her back and both legs broken. There was nothing she could do but pray that someone found her.
Luckily for Betty Lou, another team of medics had been nearby. They’d heard the whistling whoosh of speeding air, her terrified screams and then the elevator’s crashing stop. 17 year old Donald Molony of the Coast Guard quickly shimmied down the busted shaft and began to sift through fallen bricks, shredded cables, steel shrapnel and other pieces of rubble until he found Betty Lou.
Having survived her harrowing drop, she became more than an elevator operator. She’d become a world record holder. To this day, Betty Lou Oliver has the, ‘not so sought after’ honor in the Guinness World Record Book as being the survivor of the longest elevator drop ever recorded.
Traumatic though her trip was, she refused to let it defeat her. Still not completely healed, she returned to the Empire State Building five months later and rode an elevator to the top. Betty Lou Oliver was not to be mastered, she was the conqueror.