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Upper floors of tallest building blazing inferno

NEW YORK (UP) -- A B-25 bomber crashed and exploded in the 78th floor of the Empire State building Saturday and the upper part of the tallest building in the world instantly became a blazing inferno for hundreds of office workers perched 1,000 feet above the street.

The plane was lost in a fog when it struck. It broke into a giant, spectacular burst of flame. The explosion rocked midtown Manhattan.

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Nearly four hours after the disaster, the death toll was in doubt. A police captain in the building said at 1:30 p.m. that 13 bodies had been found in the structure, 11 on the 79th floor, one on the 78th floor and one on the 72nd. Earlier police headquarters said 19 had been killed. Many of the bodies were so mangled that it may be days before the death list is completed.

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Of the 13 bodes, 12 were unidentified.

At least 15 were injured.

In the National Catholic Welfare council offices six office workers were killed.

The suddenness of the disaster was appalling. Lt. Aubrey B. Condit, army frier and chief engineering assistant at Bolling Field, Washington, D.C., who happened to be gazing at the Empire State and saw the plane said: "The pilot had just about one mine to see how he was going to die. His motors were perfect ... he turned a little to the left at the last instant, but too late."

Two screaming girls, one with hair and clothes aflame, for a time threatened to jump from the 80th floor window but were dissuaded by office workers below and were rescued.

Three persons were killed in two elevators.

It was estimated that only 1,500 persons were in the building at the time.

Army officials said there were five men in the plane -- the pilot, co-pilot, navigator, radio operator and flight engineer. All certainly were killed instantly.

Flames raged out of control in six floors of the building for 40 minutes. Three elevators crashed from the 80th floor to the ground. Glass and debris rained into the street.

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The plane struck the north side of the building, penetrated a wing of the floor, destroyed everything in its path and went out the south wing of the building. Part of it landed on the roof of the 12-story Waldorf building on 33rd street.

Six dead were reported soldiers, some presumably members of the plane's crew of five.

Only the fact that it was Saturday morning, when many offices are closed, prevented a far greater disaster.

The 78th floor was unoccupied. On the 79th floor, occupied by offices of the war relief service of the national Catholic welfare council, several persons were killed. Nine bodies were reported found on the 79th floor. Three bodies were taken from two of the fallen elevators. The third was empty.

An enormous crowd gathered in the street and the largest among of the fire fighting apparatus ever assembled in New York City was rushed out in four fire alarms. Glass and debris continued to shower down for almost an hour. The 34th street foyer of the building was converted into an emergency receiving station. Bellevue hospital sent all available doctors, nurses and disaster equipment.

First reporters to fight their way up past the smoke-clouded 69th floor found the cowling of the plane still stuck to the side of the building. The point where the plane struck was near a bank of 10 elevators. All floors from the 69th to the 79th were littered with debris.

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About 20 feet inside the window nearest where the plane struck lay one of the B-25's engines and half a propeller. A fragment of a propeller was imbedded in a wall.

Office windows were shattered 10 floors up and 10 floors below the 78th story. A stream of firemen, police, priests, doctors and nurses moved up and down the stairs. Six charred bodies lay in and near the Catholic welfare offices.

Mayor F.H. LaGuardia, quickly at the scene, inspected the 78th floor and said: "It was just an oven."

He said the plane was "flying too low." City regulations forbid flying lower than 5,000 feet over the city, he said.

Eye-witnesses said the plane zoomed down Fifth avenue, apparently in trouble. Nanette Morrison, typist in the office of Carl Byor associates, publicists, was gazing out the window as the plane approached. Not realizing her peril at first, she leaned from the window and started to wave to the crew members, she said.

The army said the bomber left Bedford, Mass., on "contact flying regulations." A control tower operator at the field said that the ceiling was 1,100 feet over Manhattan at 9:50 a.m. the time of the crash. The Empire State building is 1,250 feet tall and on foggy days its peak usually is obscured.

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The main foyer on the 34th street (uptown) side of the building was converted into an emergency station and was crowded with internes.

One of the first dead to be identified was Paul Deering, 40, a reporter for the Buffalo Courier-Express. Deering's body was recovered from a window ledge on the 72nd floor, and police believed he died trying to escape from an upper floor.

Roofs of several nearby buildings were set afire by the spray of blazing gasoline from the plane.

Stanley Lomax, sports announcer for radio station WOR, driving past the scene at the time of the blast, said: "I heard the plane's engines. I looked up and then I knew it would crash ... Its course was straight down Fifth avenue and the pilot must have known when I saw the plane that it would hit the building. He pulled up a little, but not enough, and the plane crashed."

Lomax said the plane struck at a point where there is a recess in the building, just below the observation tower.

"The left wing catapulted up into the fog, and then over toward Madison avenue one block east," Lomax said.

An enormous throng rushed to the scene and all available fire fighting apparatus in the city was called out in four-fire alarms.

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Fog, at times closing in to 500 feet of the ground, blotted out the view of fire from the street at times.

Despite the furore the lower floors of the building were not evacuated and heads could be seen protruding from windows up to the 20th floor.

Army public relations officers said the plane was en route from New Bedford, Mass., to LaGuardia Field. It was reported to have attempted to land at LaGuardia and to have turned and headed for Newark when low visibility prevented a landing here.

Airport reports said the pilot of the plane radioed the control tower at LaGuardia, asking information on weather conditions at Newark, N.J., airport, where the pilot presumably intended to land.

The pilot was flying by contact with the ground rather than by instrument, although visibility over Manhattan was only about 500 feet.

Dr. Jack Loer, St. Vincent's hospital, first physician to reach the burning floors, said he traveled by elevator to the 70th floor and walked up to the 78th, 79th, and 80th floor.

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