Aviation was only 42 years old in 1945 and flying a plane, especially in fog, was as much an art as a science. This was demonstrated on Saturday, July 28, 1945 when a B-25 Mitchell bomber, Old John Feather Merchant, struck the north side of the Empire State Building between the 78th and 80th stories, striking the building where the National Catholic Welfare Council, the predecessor organization of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Flying to Newark Airport, the pilot, Lieutenant Colonel William Franklin Smith, Jr., was advised of zero visibility conditions by the landing tower at La Guardia and advised to land which he declined to do. A 1942 graduate of West Point, the 27 year old Smith was an experienced combat pilot with forty missions with the Eighth Air Force, and had earned a Distinguished Flying Cross with cluster. It is theorized that Smith became confused and thought he was over New Jersey when he was actually over downtown New York at a hair-raising 500 feet. He managed to avoid three skyscrapers before careering into the fourteen year old Empire State Building.
All three men on the bomber were killed instantly and eleven people in the building, with twenty-five wounded. Twenty year old elevator operator Betty Lou Oliver survived a 75 floor elevator plunge caused by the crash. The resulting fire was put out in 45 minutes.