TIME Aviation

When an Army Plane Crashed Into the Empire State Building

Crashed Bomber
Keystone / Getty Images Part of a US B-25 bomber which crashed into the Empire State Building in New York City in 1945

July 28, 1945: A U.S. Army bomber crashes into the New York City skyscraper in thick fog, killing 14 people

On this day, July 28, 1945, Lt. Col. William Franklin Smith Jr. flew a B-25 bomber into the 78th floor of the Empire State Building, which was then the tallest building in the world.

It was just before 10:00 on a Saturday morning at the tail end of World War II, and Smith was flying a routine transport mission—giving a handful of servicemen a ride home, according to NPR. He himself was a decorated pilot, fresh from logging 1,000 combat hours in the war, per TIME. He’d earned the Air Medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Croix de Guerre as a member of the 457th Bomb Group, where he “hammered at targets in central Germany,” per his obituary in the West Point alumni magazine.

“When Bill entered the Academy in July of 1938 he stood on the threshold of a brief but brilliant career as a soldier. To look back on that career we wonder if he knew that his time was short,” his obit concludes. “He wanted to do everything in a military manner, but fast and well.”

That sense of urgency may explain why, 70 years ago today, the 27-year-old pilot ignored an air traffic controller’s warning of low visibility en route from LaGuardia to Newark.

“We’re unable to see the top of the Empire State Building,” the controller told him, according to TIME’s 1945 report. Smith flew anyway.

In the dense fog, he maneuvered through Manhattan at about 225 m.p.h., narrowly missing a skyscraper on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street before he pulled up and banked slightly left—and collided head-on with the Empire State Building.

“The bomber gored through the thick steel and stone of the building as if they were papier-mâché,” TIME reported. “Then, in a flash of flame, the gasoline tanks exploded. In another instant flames leaped and seeped inside & outside the building.”

Smith and his two passengers were killed instantly; 11 people in the building also died. Most of the victims, per TIME, were “women employed by the National Catholic Welfare Conference, which has offices on the 79th floor. Many were burned beyond recognition.”

Some survived against the odds—including a 19-year-old elevator operator who broke her pelvis, back and neck when the plane sliced through the elevator’s cables and she plummeted from the 79th floor to the subbasement, per NPR.

Decades later, it’s hard not to read about this history without thinking of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001—but the skyscraper and the plane weren’t the only components these two events shared. The disaster also prompted adrenaline-fueled acts of heroism reminiscent, on a smaller scale, of those that prevailed after 9/11. To free the badly-injured young woman from the basement elevator, first responders battered a hole through the wreckage. One courageous volunteer tunneled through it to reach her. Per TIME:

Donald Malony, 17, a Coast Guard hospital apprentice, squeezed through it, brought her out, gave her morphine. Passing the building at the moment of the crash, he had run into a drug store, talked a clerk into giving him hypodermic needles, drugs, other supplies. He gave first aid to many.

Read more from 1945: New York: In the Clouds

TIME Washington D.C.

Man Who Landed Gyrocopter at Capitol Rejects Plea Deal

Doug Hughes flies his gyrocopter, near the Wauchula Municipal Airport in Wauchula, Fla., March 17, 2015.
James Borchuck—Tampa Bay Times/TNS Doug Hughes flies his gyrocopter, near the Wauchula Municipal Airport in Wauchula, Fla., March 17, 2015.

The offer was 10 months in jail

Douglas Hughes, a man who landed his gyrocopter on the lawn of the U.S. capitol as a protest, rejected a plea deal that would have given him 10 months in jail.

His attorney believes zero to six months in jail is more reasonable, the Associated Press reports, and Hughes insists no person or property was damaged.

Hughes is a mail carrier who landed on the capital lawn to protest money in politics.

The area Hughes flew was restricted airspace and was detained when he landed. He is now barred from flying any aircraft.

Hughes’ next court date is in August.

[Associated Press]

TIME Aviation

Read What Parents of Germanwings Crash Victims Told the Airline’s CEO

Germanwings Letter Lufthansa
Sascha Steinbach—Getty Images People arrive at a holding area for friends and relatives of passengers on Germanwings Flight 4U9525 from Barcelona to Dusseldorf at Dusseldorf International Airport on March 24, 2015, in Dusseldorf, Germany.

"One of your pilots has killed our children"

The parents of 16 high school classmates killed in the Germanwings plane crash delivered a scathing open letter to the airline’s chief on Tuesday, amplifying other families’ complaints of the “deeply insulting” compensation offers made in recent weeks.

In the German-language letter, made public by the families’ lawyer, the victims’ parents accuse Carsten Spohr, CEO of parent airline Lufthansa, of neglecting them in the aftermath of the March 24 crash.

You published large ads in many daily newspapers during the memorial service in Cologne. You saw us during the funeral service in Haltern, during the memorial service in Cologne. A few personal words during a conversation with you would have shown us, that you care not only for the public, but for us as well. . .

We, and especially our children, are deeply insulted that you measure the life of each of our children and our pain that we suffered with €45,000. This is the amount that you personally get paid every work week by Lufthansa as a salary. Every week.

A Lufthansa spokesperson has denied the claims made in the letter, stating that Spohr has made every effort to speak with victims’ families, the Associated Press reported. Spohr has also attended many services for victims, including one in Haltern, Germany, where the 16 students had attended school, the spokesperson said.

A total of 156 passengers and crew were killed in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525. Prosecutors have claimed it was a deliberate act by the mentally ill co-pilot.

Read Next: 3 Charts Showing How Airlines Put a Price on Crash Victims’ Lives

TIME Aviation

United Airlines Rewards Hackers With a Million Frequent Flier Miles

United Airlines Grounds All Flights Worldwide After Computer Glitch
Spencer Platt—Getty Images A traveler walks through the United Airlines terminal at Newark Liberty Airport on July 8, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey.

The company is asking for help finding holes in its security

Two skillful hackers just got a big payday from United Airlines: the company has confirmed that it paid out rewards of 1 million frequent flier miles each to two people who were able to uncover major flaws in its web security system.

The reward is equal to dozens of domestic flights, Reuters reports, but it’s also a savvy business move for United: the cost is likely far lower than it would be to engage an outside consulting firm.

United defended the so-called “bug bounty” on its website, writing “We believe that this program will further bolster our security and allow us to continue to provide excellent service.”


TIME Aviation

12 Flights Hit by Lasers Over New Jersey

There were no major injuries or accidents

Eleven commercial flights and one military aircraft reported being hit by laser beams this week while flying over New Jersey, the Federal Aviation Administration said Thursday.

The FAA said the twelve laser incidents, all reported between 9 p.m. and 10:30 p.m., did not cause any notable injuries or accidents, though one pilot reported blurred vision, according to CNN. Federal authorities have not determined where the laser—or lasers—originated, and whether they were related, though an investigation is underway.

Aiming a laser at an aircraft is “a serious safety risk and violates federal law,” according to the FAA. Laser pointers can compromise the vision of commercial pilots, endangering the crew and the hundreds of passengers who may be on board.

“This is an assault on a pilot as far as I’m concerned,” Rich Frankel, an FBI special agent in-charge in New Jersey, told ABC. “It is a criminal matter. You’re putting the lives of not just the pilot but everyone on the plane at risk.”

The number of flights reporting laser incidents has risen dramatically over the past 10 years, according to FAA data. In 2014, there were 3894 reported incidents of lasers aimed at aircraft, a ten-fold increase from the 384 reports in 2006.

TIME Aviation

Solar Impulse Plane Grounded Until 2016 Due To Battery Issue

Solar Impulse
Jean Revillard—Solar Impulse/EPA The Solar Impulse 2 approaching Kalaeloa Airport, Hawaii.

The Solar Impulse will start the next leg of its journey in April

The solar powered plane that crossed the Pacific Ocean earlier this year has been grounded until spring 2016 due to overheated batteries, the plane’s operators announced Wednesday.

The plane, known as the Solar Impulse, flew from Nagoya, Japan to Hawaii earlier this year in the longest leg of an around-the-world journey. A press release from the plane’s management explained the battery issues are the result of overheating during an ascent in Japan. The plane’s crew failed to accurately anticipate the way the battery temperature would be affected by the tropical climate, the release said.

Read More: Everything You Need to Know About Solar Impulse

“The damage to the batteries is not a technical failure or a weakness in the technology but rather an evaluation error in terms of the profile of the mission and the cooling design specifications of the batteries,” said the press release.

The plane will be housed by the University of Hawaii until April when it will continue its journey with a flight to the west coast of the United States.

TIME Aviation

United Suffers 2nd Major Grounding in 2 Months

The airline cited "network connectivity" for the problems

NEW YORK (AP) —United Airlines grounded flights across the country for part of Wednesday after experiencing computer problems.

An airline spokeswoman said that a router problem reduced “network connectivity” for several software applications.

Around midday, spokeswoman Jennifer Dohm said, “We fixed the router issue, which is enabling us to restore normal functions.”

The Federal Aviation Administration lifted a ground-stop order after nearly two hours, allowing United planes to fly again.

United did not immediately say how many flights were affected.

United, the nation’s second-biggest airline, has suffered similar technology problems before, also leading to mass delays and cancellations.

The airline briefly halted all takeoffs in the U.S. on June 2 because of a problem in its flight-dispatching system. United said then that about 150 flights were affected.

United also struggled through a series of computer outages in 2012 after switching to the passenger-information system of Continental Airlines after that carrier merged with United. Those outages caused hundreds of flights to be delayed. High-paying business travelers were outraged; United CEO Jeff Smisek apologized for failing to provide good customer service.

After a 2010 merger, United elected to combine many computer systems and frequent-flier programs all at once. Executives believed that any disruptions would thus be short-lived. By contrast, Delta and Northwest integrated their systems in stages after a 2008 merger, and American Airlines is taking Delta’s same go-slow approach now as it absorbs US Airways.

Other airlines, however, have also been hit by computer problems. In April, more than 50 Americanflights were delayed when a software glitch prevented pilots from seeing some airport maps on their tablet computers.

After Wednesday’s problems, United apologized to customers and said they could change travel plans without being charged the usual $200 reservation-change fee. In some cases, the airline said it would also waive any difference in fare for the rescheduled trip.

“We don’t know everything behind this morning’s issues yet, but today’s incident underscores the sense that something is very wrong at United,” said Gary Leff, co-founder of frequent-flier website MilePoint.

Shares of Chicago-based United Continental Holdings Inc. fell $1.25, or 2.3 percent, to $53.06 in midday trading.


TIME Aviation

Two Killed After F-16 Fighter Jet and Small Plane Collide in Midair Over South Carolina

The collision happened near Charleston, S.C.

MONCKS CORNER, S.C. — An F-16 fighter jet smashed into a small plane Tuesday over South Carolina, killing two people and raining down plane parts and debris over a wide swath of marshes and rice fields.

Two people were aboard the smaller Cessna, which was completely destroyed, and both died, National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Peter Knudson said. The pilot of the F-16 ejected and “is apparently uninjured,” he said. Lt. Jenny Hyden, a spokeswoman for Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter, said the pilot was taken to the base for observation.

There are not yet any details on what caused the collision or where the planes were traveling, though the NTSB is investigating.

Debris was scattered across a wide area, though there were no reports of anyone being hurt or any homes being damaged on the ground, Berkeley County spokesman Michael Mule said.

There are homes in the area about 20 miles northwest of Charleston, though it is not densely populated, Mule said.

A witness reported that the military plane broadsided the Cessna, said Berkeley County Coroner Bill Salisbury. Officials said during a news conference that most of the debris was in a marshy area, including a rice field.

“We have airboats and boats that are designed to run in the mud,” Salisbury said.

Wayne Ware told The Post and Courier of Charleston he was going for a walk when he heard the crash happen. He did not see the initial impact, but heard it.

“I turned around, and I saw the jet. Pieces started falling out of the sky,” Ware said, telling the paper the jet’s engine landed at a campground.

The Air Force has flown F-16s since the 1970s, though very few active-duty squadrons still fly them. F-16s from Shaw Air Force Base, about 35 miles east of Columbia, routinely fly training missions over eastern South Carolina and the Atlantic.

The smaller plane was a Cessna 150, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, a two-seat plane that debuted in 1959 and remains one of the most common single-engine planes in the U.S.

The Cessna 150’s maximum altitude is about 15,000 feet, according to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. Most models weigh about 1,500 pounds when fully fueled. By comparison, an F-16 is about 50 feet long and weighs nearly 10 tons, not counting fuel or weapons.

Associated Press writer Jack Jones in Columbia contributed to this report.

TIME Aviation

JetBlue Launches Direct Flights From New York to Cuba

JetBlue JFK Cuba
Bloomberg via Getty Images Passengers exit a JetBlue Airways Corp. plane at Long Beach Airport in Long Beach, Calif., on July 22, 2013.

First major airline to fly from the Big Apple to Havana since restrictions lifted

JetBlue became the first major U.S. carrier on Friday to launch direct flights between New York City and Havana, Cuba, since the White House eased travel restrictions earlier this year.

The weekly charter flights operate between New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport and Havana’s José Martí International Airport, the carrier said in a statement. The new route, which was announced in May, joins four other JetBlue flights that provide round trips between the U.S. and Cuba, giving the airline an even stronger presence in the Caribbean.

Cuban New Yorkers aboard the maiden flight on Friday celebrated the long-awaited, historic moment, NBC reports, though a smaller airline, Sun Country, has been operating flights between New York and Havana for several months.

TIME Aviation

Solar-Powered Plane Lands in Hawaii After Record-Breaking 5-Day Journey

APTOPIX Solar Plane
Marco Garcia—AP The Solar Impulse 2, a solar-powered airplane, circles the Kalaeloa Airport in Kapolei, Hawaii, on July 3, 2015.

Solar Impulse 2 flies without fuel

(KAPOLEI, Hawaii) — A plane powered by the sun’s rays landed in Hawaii Friday after a record-breaking five-day journey across the Pacific Ocean from Japan.

Pilot Andre Borschberg and his single-seat aircraft landed at Kalaeloa, a small airport outside Honolulu. His 120-hour voyage from Nagoya broke the record for the world’s longest nonstop solo flight, his team said. The late U.S. adventurer Steve Fossett set the previous record of 76 hours when he flew a specially-designed jet around the globe in 2006.

But Borschberg flew the Solar Impulse 2 without fuel. Instead, its wings were equipped with 17,000 solar cells that charged batteries. The plane ran on stored energy at night.

The plane’s ideal flight speed is about 28 mph though that can double during the day when sun’s rays are strongest. The carbon-fiber aircraft weighs over 5,000 pounds or about as much as a minivan or mid-sized truck.

Borschberg and his co-pilot Bertrand Piccard have been taking turns flying the plane on an around-the-world trip since taking off from Abu Dhabi in March. After Hawaii, it will head to Phoenix and then New York.

The project, which began in 2002 and is estimated to cost more than $100 million, is aimed at highlighting the importance of renewable energy and the spirit of innovation. Solar-powered air travel is not yet commercially practical, however, given the slow travel time, weather and weight constraints of the aircraft.

The plane is visiting Hawaii just as the state has embarked on its own ambitious clean energy project. Gov. David Ige last month signed legislation directing Hawaii’s utilities to generate 100 percent of their electricity from renewable energy resources by 2045. The utilities currently get 21 percent of their power from renewable sources.

Borschberg took naps and practiced yoga to cope with the long hours.

“Yoga is a huge support for this flight above the Pacific: it positively affects my mood and mindset,” he wrote in a tweet from the plane on Thursday.

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