05/23/09 263 W, 1 I - + 13 - 18 Bomber, Building, Elevator, 1945

We've all wondered what happens when an elevator fails and falls several or dozens of stories. On July 28, 1945, when a B-25 bomber crashed into the Empire State Building in New York City, a 20-year-old "elevator girl" survived a 75-story plunge. As the Associated Press reported on July 31, and which appeared in the News & Observer, Betty Lou Oliver of Fort Smith, Arkansas, was working her last week. She was waiting for her sailor husband to return from overseas, and had given notice that she was leaving. She was alone in the elevator car when the plane crashed into the building, and remained fully conscious during the car's "terrifying descent." It "seemed to stop and shudder for a moment," she later told her sister at the hospital, "then it began plummeting downward. I tried desperately to stop it. Then a flash of fire enveloped me and I raised my left arm to protect my face." The fire was over in a moment, and she tried the car telephone, which was dead, and then banged on the floor. During the descent, she recalled having to "hang onto the sides of the elevator just to keep from floating." Most of the car was destroyed, except for the section where Ms. Oliver was standing. The six cables had snapped, and the automatic braking system was destroyed. Only air pressure in the shaft might have slowed the descent, said one expert. Ms. Oliver suffered burns, bruises, and a possible back fracture. 

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