Longest elevator fall

In 1945 an Air Force bomber crashed into the side of the Empire State Building. An elevator cab carrying Betty Lou Oliver fell 75 floors straight down; she, incredibly, survived.

Empire State Building elevator door
DanielPenfield, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

July 28, 1945, a US Air Force B-25 bomber got lost in fog and crashed into the Empire State Building. It hit somewhere between the 78th and 80th floors. All three of the people on the plane, and eleven others in the building, died. An aircraft mechanic on the plane was thrown into an elevator shaft and ended up around eighty floors down. But, amidst all this carnage, one person was incredibly lucky.

Betty Lou Oliver worked in the Empire State Building as an elevator operator. When the plane hit she was thrown free of her cab. And when first aiders found her, she was badly burnt – but alive. They treated her injuries and put her on another elevator so she could get to the hospital.

What they didn’t know, and what Betty Lou Oliver certainly didn’t know, was that the crash had also damaged this elevator’s cables. And, as Oliver descended, they snapped. The cab plummeted seventy five floors, from nearly the top of the Empire State Building all the way down to the basement.

Empire State Building elevator shaft
Stefan Bethke, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Oliver, like I said, was incredibly lucky. The elevator cables piled up at the bottom of the shaft and may have acted as a kind of cushioning metal spring. The fall broke her back, her neck, and her pelvis, but Oliver survived. She would go on to make a full recovery.

To this day, Betty Lou Oliver holds the record for longest survived elevator fall. As for the Empire State Building, firefighters quickly brought the fire under control (in fact, it’s one of the highest high-rise fires ever to be successfully controlled) and the damage was soon repaired.

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