Topics - United Airlines Flight 615
Oakland, California
August 24, 1951

Close this window

Most recent update to this page: February 08, 2020



United Airlines Flight 615 was a US transcontinental east-west airline service from Boston to Hartford, Cleveland, Chicago, Oakland and San Francisco. On August 24, 1951, the Douglas DC-6B with registration N37550 operating the service, crashed on approach to Oakland, causing the death of all 44 passengers and six crew members on board.

The flight departed Chicago at 10:59 p.m. CST en route to Oakland. At around 4:16 a.m., the plane was approaching Oakland. At this time, the pilot, Marion W. Hedden of Los Altos, had talked with the control tower of the Civil Aeronautics Administration at the airport preparing for his landing, and had mentioned no trouble. At 4:25 a.m. Flight 615 was cleared for the straight-in approach into Oakland.   This approach clearance was the last radio transmission with the flight. The plane crashed into mountainous terrain 15 miles (24 km) southeast of Oakland, careening into Tolman Peak and over its knoll, scattering on the down slope and into Dry Gulch Canyon below in a fiery explosion. All 50 persons on board perished.

After an investigation, it was determined that the pilot ignored the prescribed instrument landing procedures. The pilot instead relied on visual reference, using the copilot's automatic direction finder (ADF). The ADF threw the plane three miles (4.8 km) off course and below the prescribed altitude of 3,500 feet (1,100 m).

Crew Members

Captain Marion W. Hedden, 42, of Los Altos, California

Born in Alabama, Hedden began his career with United Air Lines on Nov. 1, 1939. A former Navy flying instructor, he had accumulated 12,032 flight hours, including 417 in the DC-6 and 14 in the new DC-6B. He was granted a DC-6 rating on Jan. 15, 1951, and qualified on the DC-6B on April 26, 1951, only four months earlier.

First Officer George A. Jewett, 35, of Redwood City, California

Raised in Ames, Iowa, he had been flying for United Air Lines for five years, having been a veteran of 37 bombing mission in the B-17 'Flying Fortress' during World War II, leaving the service as a captain.  A qualified captain for United for over two years, he was receiving familiarization training in the DC-6B before captaining his own.

Flight Engineer Mario A. Durante, 36, of Sausalito, California

Born in Wyoming, he had worked with United for 13 years, and been a flight engineer for almost two years.

Flight Engineer Arthur W. Kessler, 43, of Redwood City, California

Born in Wisconsin, he was the chief flight engineer for the Pacific Coast division of United, having served with them 21 years. He was an observer on this flight.

Stewardess Marilyn M. Murphy, 24, of San Mateo, California

Born in Iowa, she had worked for United since for over two years.

Stewardess Mae LaVerne Sholes, 22, of Palo Alto, California

Having joined United Air Lines only a year earlier, Flight #615 was to be last flight, having just been engaged to a graduate of Stanford University.


  1. LTJG Dorothy Sue Ball, of Leicester, North Carolina. Boarded at Hartford, Connecticut
  2. William Dean Beveridge, 29, of Eastontown, New Jersey - Born in Michigan, boarded at Philadelphia.
  3. Major Beverly L. Britton, of Falls Church, Virginia. Boarded at Chicago.
  4. Andrew C. Colegrove, 43, of Mystic, Conn. Boarded at Chicago
  5. Major Theodore Raymond Danielson, 41, of San Francisco - Born in Montana, served in the U.S. Army in Korea, was an engineer training officer at the Presidio, and is buried at Golden Gate National Cemetery.
  6. 2LT Lawrence A D'Anna, 29, of Camp Stoneman, Calif. - Born in Ohio
  7. Madison Thenton Davis, 41, of Altadena, Calif. Boarded at Chicago.
  8. Private John M Fejes, 17, of Camp Stoneman - Born in Ohio
  9. PFC Robert A. Fitzpatrick, 19, of Salem, Massachusetts
  10. Violabelle Davis Gommel, 30, of Albany, Calif. - Born in Ohio, boarded at Cleveland, wife of Richard Gommel, a service manager at the Marquette Metal Company
  11. Nancy Jean Gommel, 5, of Albany, Calif. Boarded at Cleveland.
  12. Richard Carroll Gommel Jr., 8, of Albany, Calif. - Born in Ohio, boarded at Cleveland.
  13. Joseph J. Grota Jr., 22 - Born in Rhode Island, boarded at Chicago
  14. Clayton Edward Gunn, 49, of Oakland, Calif. - Born in Iowa, he was the president of Continental Auto leasing System, and a well-known cattle rancher.
  15. James Lee Hittson, of Athens, Tenn. - Boarded in Chicago
  16. Hugh Kris Holmlund, 3, of Menlo Park, Calif. Boarded at Chicago,
  17. John Paul Holmlund, 8 months, of Menlo Park, Calif. Boarded at Chicago
  18. Pauline Holmlund, 24, of Menlo Park, Calif. - Born in Kentucky, the wife of United mechanic Hugo J. Holmlund, boarded at Chicago
  19. Dean Johnson, 57, of Portland, Oregon. - Born in Arkansas, boarded at Chicago
  20. Harold Albert "Ernest" Johnson, 45, of Portland, Oregon - Born in South Dakota, boarded at Chicago
  21. SGT Carl R. Keiser, 27, of Kutztown, Pa.
  22. Frederick G. Liebich, 19, of Belmont, Calif. - Born in Illinois, boarded at Chicago, the son of George F. Liebich, a United mechanic. He and his brother, Wayne, filled a last-minute vacancy on the flight.
  23. Wayne T. Liebich, 10, of Belmont, Calif. - Born in Illinois, boarded at Chicago, the son of George F. Liebich, a United mechanic. He and his brother, Frederick, filled a last-minute vacancy on the flight.
  24. Irving F. Lyons, 58, of Oakland, Calif. - Boarded at Chicago, was a traffic manager for the California Packing Corporation.
  25. John F. Leach, 55, of Oakland, Calif. - Boarded in Chicago, he was the chief tender on the Oakland-Alameda bridges, and was returning from the national Moose convention in Buffalo, NY
  26. George McDonald, of Oaklawn, Illinois - Boarded in Chicago
  27. Mrs. Agnes McDonald, 46, of Oaklawn, Illinois - Boarded in Chicago
  28. 1st Lt. William Berkeley Napton, 30, North Sacramento, Calif. - Born in Oregon and boarded in Chicago, was the registrar of the infirmary at McClellan AFB, and formerly the business manager of the Concord Hospital
  29. Robert T. Petrie, of Portland, Oregon
  30. Private Raymond E. Rex, 20, of Carey, Ohio
  31. PFC James Robbins, 22, of Conneaut, Ohio - Born in Indiana
  32. Mrs. Elizabeth Angeline Rose, 36, of Redwood City, Calif. - Born in Illinois and boarded the plane in Chicago, was the wife of Dean Rose, a United mechanic.
  33. Kathleen Ann Rose, 3, of Redwood City, Calif. - Boarded in Chicago with her mother, Elizabeth
  34. Electrician's Mate Reynold L. Schwartz, 20, of Avon, Ohio - Boarded in Cleveland, a member of the U.S. Navy
  35. Howard Leo Stilley, 42, of Oakland, Calif.- Boarded in Chicago, he was a sales manager for Bay Cities Equipment.
  36. Joseph A. Saldana, 22, of San Jose, Calif. - Born in Texas, boarded in Chicago, had just been discharged from the Army after four years of service
  37. Josephine Florence Sena, 35, Hartford, Conn. - Born in Connecticut, boarded in Chicago.
  38. Hospital Corpsman - Third Class Joseph L. Toman, of Youngstown, Ohio - Boarded in Cleveland, was in the U.S. Navy
  39. Eric Preston Van, 46, of Portland, Oregon - Boarded in Chicago
  40. George H. Weaver, of Bangor, Pennsylvania
  41. Mrs. Katherine Dierolf Willauer, 38, of Menlo Park, Calif. - Born in Pennsylvania, boarded in Chicago
  42. Dennis Willauer, 4, of Menlo Park, Calif.- Born in Wyoming, boarded in Chicago
  43. Anna Lee Willauer, 14, of Menlo Park, Calif. - Born in Pennsylvania, boarded in Chicago
  44. Leslie Willauer, 14 months, of Menlo Park, Calif.- Born in California, boarded in Chicago

Close this window

2002-2016 Korean War Educator. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use of material is prohibited.

- Contact Webmaster with questions or comments related to web site layout.
- Contact Lynnita for Korean War questions or similar informational issues.
- Website address:

Hit Counter