26 JANUARY 21, 2021 RIDGEWOOD TIMES WWW.QNS.COM
How a M.V. man survived Empire State plane crash
BY THE OLD TIMER
OUR NEIGHBORHOOD: THE WAY IT WAS
In the waning weeks of World War
II, New York City was stunned by
a disaster unlike any other in its
history, up to that point.
On Saturday morning, July 28, 1945,
a U.S. Army bomber carrying three
crew members from the Bedford
Army Air Field in Massachusetts was
set to touch down at LaGuardia Airport.
Air traffi c controllers, however,
directed the crew to instead land at
The city was shrouded in fog that
morning, so thick that it made it impossible
to see the upper fl oors of the
Empire State Building. The controllers
relayed that information to the pilot,
Lieutenant Colonel William F. Smith
Jr., who began to fl y the plane low and
slow for better visibility.
However, Smith soon realized that
he was on track for a collision with
the Chrysler Building and panicked.
He swerved to avoid striking the skyscraper,
but before Smith could realize
it, the plane crashed into the north
side of the Empire State Building.
The bomber burst into fl ames upon
impacting the 79th Floor, killing the
crew on board and 11 people working
in the National Catholic Welfare Conference
located on that level. Jet fuel
spread down to the 75th Floor and set
of a large offi ce fi re across numerous
fl oors of the building.
It’s a story with elements that are
eerily similar to the tragic events of
Sept. 11, 2001 — but that incident, of
course, was a calculated attack with
devastating consequences. The 1945
crash at the Empire State Building was
a horrible accident, and it occurred
on a weekend, at a time when fewer
people than normal were working in
In so many tragedies, unlikely
heroes always seem to come forward.
One of them happened to be Daniel J.
Norden of Middle Village, who was
working at the Empire State Building
at the time of the 1945 crash and
stepped up to save not only his own
life, but also the lives of several of his
His story made the front page of the
Aug. 3, 1945, issue of the Ridgewood
Times, and we present the story in its
Daniel J. Norden of 83-33 Penelope
Ave., Middle Village, one of the heroes
of the Empire State Building tragedy,
thrilled neighbors with his story of how
he smashed his way out of his fl ameencircled
offi ce on the 80th fl oor with a
hammer and rescued two companions.
Norden, who is assistant New York
manager of the Caterpillar Tractor
Company, said he was sure that “this
was the end” on Saturday when the
Army B-25 bomber crashed into the
building one fl oor below his offi ce.
He told how he was sitting at his desk
when he heard the crash. He said he
could feel the building vibrate and was
knocked to the fl oor by the impact before
he knew what happened.
“Arthur E. Palmer, an engineer who
works in our offi ce and the only person
there with me, fell out of his chair, too.
As we were getting up, one of the elevator
girls came rushing in. She was crying
and pretty badly burned.”
He said he opened the back door “and
saw that it was a furnace out there.” He
then looked at the windows and the
fl ame was sweeping up past them. The
room was fi lled with gas and the fl oor
was beginning to get hot.
The Middle Village man turned to
Palmer and said, “Art, I guess this is
Then he thought of the hammer.
Rushing to the supply closet, he seized
the 12-inch claw hammer and began
pounding frantically on the south wall.
The plaster fell away, and soon he had
smashed a hole the size of his fi st.
As he was pounding, the fi re came
closer and closer, and he was choked
Photo via Wikimedia Commons/Inset via Ridgewood Times archives
by the smoke. The girl was screaming
for help and as he smashed his way out,
he attempted to quiet her.
Finally, he smashed a hole big enough
to escape through and pulled the girl
aft er him with Palmer following. They
made their way to a fi re stairway in the
middle of the building and came out on
the 66th fl oor, where the elevators were
A veteran of World War I, Norden was
overseas 18 months and was awarded
the Purple Heart for wounds he received
at St. Mihiel. When he was discharged
aft er 28 months of service, he held the
rank of corporal.
He and his wife and son, Dale, 12, have
lived in Middle Village for four years.
Norden’s remarkable tale was not the
only story of heroism on the front page
of the Ridgewood Times on Aug. 3, 1945.
The paper published a list of local medal
recipients for their service during World
The honorees included Private First
Class William R. Machol of Ridgewood,
a scout and observer with the 35th
Infantry Division, who earned the
Bronze Star for his participation in the
campaigns at Normandy, Northern
France, Rhineland, Ardennes and
Private First Class Howard
Teichmann of Irving Avenue in Bushwick
also earned the Bronze Star for
clearing an enemy-held bridge in
France, allowing for Allied troops and
vehicles to advance.
One other Bronze Star recipient we’ll
note is Technical Sergeant Albert F.
Thielmann of Glendale, who earned
the medal for meritorious service in
support of combat operations in the
Apennine Mountains and Po Valley,
As noted in the citation mentioned in
the article, Thielmann worked “under
conditions of extreme cold and dampness”
to eff ect “the prompt and effi cient
handling of administrative matters
pertaining to a unit in constant contact
with the enemy” aft er two superior offi
cers wound up being hospitalized.
Additional sources: History.com and
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