The Empire State Building has more than a fair share of earth-shattering records: it was the tallest in the world for astounding 41 years and was built with the lightening speed of 410 days. Yet it has another lesser known but no less astonishing record: it was the location of the longest survived elevator fall in the world, as listed in the Guinness World Records.
On July 28, 1945, 20-year-old Betty Lou Oliver arrived at the Empire State Building expecting it be just another ordinary day in her life as an elevator operator.
It was the middle of the summer, World War II was less than two months from being over and the day was unusually foggy. A B-25 service bomber was flying a routine mission over Manhattan, but got lost in the heavy fog. All it took was one turn for the pilot to find himself moving full-speed into the mighty Empire State. The plane crashed into the north side of the building between the 78th and 80th floors, making an 18-by-20-foot gaping hole. The pilot and the two crew members on board were instantly killed, along with 11 unsuspecting people inside the building.
At the time of the crash Betty was working inside one of the elevators, as per usual. The impact caused her to be violently thrown out of the elevator car. Shocked and injured, she was placed into another elevator car meant to get her to the ground floor for immediate medical attention. However, the elevator car had suffered some damage in the accident—its supporting cables were cut—and it plunged 75 stories down with petrified young women on board. Astonishingly, she survived the fall and lived to tell the tale of how that day she cheated death not once but twice! Apparently the air-pressure served as a buffer slowing down the fall, and the cut wires that had accumulated on the bottom of the shaft softened the impact.
During this horrific incident there were about 50 people on the 86th floor observatory. The fire was brought down in under an hour and despite the damage, the Empire State was open for business less than 48 hours later.
Betty Lou Oliver suffered a broken pelvis, back, and neck, but recovered, returning to the building and even riding in an elevator a few months later. She left New York and lived for another 54 years with her husband, children, and grandchildren.
Betty’s was the longest survived elevator fall in history—and yet another world record in the Empire State Building’s collection.