1936 Plane Crash Kills 12

Picture of a Douglas DC-2 (not the actual plane that crashed)

On Sunday, December 27, 1936 a United Airlines DC-2 transport plane flying to Burbank Airport from San Francisco bounced off of Oat Mountain south of Newhall losing its wings, kept flying without wings over Rice Canyon, where it crashed into the side of the canyon, killing all 12 aboard. This was front page news in nearly 100 newspapers throughout the United States and Canada.

At 7:36 p.m. the pilot suddenly signed off with the words "wait a minute". Soon after that the plane crashed. All 12 on board were killed, 11 (disclosed by the autopsy) by fractured skulls. Watches on some of the victims stopped at 8:04 p.m.

The cause of the crash was a puzzle. There were scattered clouds with a 3000-foot visibility. However, strong winds may have blown the plane off course causing veteran pilot Ed Blom to attempt to circle back to Saugus. The pilot's cockpit was completely destroyed so there was no way to tell if there was an instrument failure.

First to reach the wreck was rancher Lee Utterbach who was rounding up stray cows. His wife Gertrude soon joined him. After finding all occupants of the plane were dead, they climbed to the top of the canyon and built a signal fire.

As a side-bar, autopsy surgeons were ordered to make a special examination of the body of A. L. Markwell to determine from marks on his body whether the diamond broker was carrying a money belt. Markwell commonly carried a money belt containing uncut diamonds, other jewels, and money in amounts varing from $30,000 to $40,000. No belt was found in the plane wreckage but it was not known for certain whether he had it on at the time. I have found no follow-ups to this story, which was published in the Los Angeles Times in 1936.

The following account is from this website. (The 12th victim not mentioned below was Mrs. Warren A. Newton.)

1936 United DC2 Airliner Crashes Near Saugus

Airline Crash Kills Twelve. Thousands Visit Scene of Disaster.

Newhall - 12/31/36 - Airplanes roared all day Monday over the valley in the effort to locate the fallen airliner that went down Sunday evening in Rice Canyon. The plane was discovered about 10:30 AM but a confusion in the radio report indicated it first east of Saugus and then north, and later west. The final location was in Rice Canyon almost south of Newhall.

Rice Canyon branches from Wiley Canyon through which the Weldon Canyon road enters Santa Clara Valley. Just at the mouth of the canyon, the Mountain View group of cabins has been built by C.H. Randall of Los Angeles, former city councilman. Here the start for the almost inaccessible spot was made as the road was washed out so that only on foot could the spot be reached.

The first searchers combed the mountain regions for a mile or more before indefinite word came that it was some three miles over on the mountains. Cars started up Rice Canyon only to stop short distance up while everyone took to old fashioned hiking. Hundreds of cars bringing reporters, photographers, officers, ambulance drivers and a host of curiosity seekers were parked in the yard, on the driveways, and along the road for a half-mile or more, until at noon there was almost a traffic jam on the highway, and officers had to direct traffic to keep travel going.

Rain fell all day in the mountains where the tragedy took place, and as California people seldom provide for such contingencies, many of the crowd were well soaked.

A number of high school boys, among them Eddie Ramsey of Saugus and Frank Brawley, Jr. and J.C. Maurer of Newhall and several others were excused from high school and walked up to the wreck, arriving at 4:30 PM. Young Brawley said that the bodies were not badly mutilated considering the fact that the plane had hit and cut off large trees after it stuck the mountain and lost its wings, as it catapulted down into the canyon and landed on the rocks in the bottom.

Mrs. Lee Carson is positive she saw the big liner as it passed over Newhall. She sighted it west or rather a little southwest of town, flying quite low, but turning to the southwest, apparently crossing the Newhall Creek Valley a little below Newhall and following the railroad canyon, but turning westward into the clouds over the mountains among which the wreck was found. She is sure of the hour, as she sat in her car in front of the Community Church and watched it, thinking at the time that it was off its course and had evidently passed east of the airport, and probably east of Saugus. If there is no mistake about this, the pilot must not have realized his danger in going into the mountains at such a low altitude, and the disaster could easily have been avoided had he seen fit to turn to the emergency airport (at Saugus).

Volunteers from everywhere answered the call to help locate the plane and also to remove the bodies once they were found. It was a hard task with rough terrain, cold and rain, but those who went at the task completed the job and at this writing the bodies have all been removed from their place of death. Quite a number of local citizens helped in the search for the plane and after being found, helped in the removal of the bodies.

Some of the city papers were not content with the death of 12 people in that airplane crash, but proceeded to fill their papers with stories about cries for help, or assistance, whichever word sounded the best. Great numbers of women swarmed into the canyons with the men, only to be soaked to the skin and chilled to the bone when darkness fell. There might have been some one lost, but so far, no reports of any casualties have been received. And most of the women soon fled before the rain, which soaked the locality all afternoon.

According to the corrected map of the locality, the plane was traveling towards the airport here, when it struck the hill and lost its wings. It then flew without wings clear across Rice Canyon, and struck against a rocky wall of the bluff and dropped over a hundred feet to the bottom of the canyon, where it was found.


DATE: December 28, 1936

FILE NO: 23379


#1 -BLOOM, Edwin - Pilot
#2 - McLEAN, Robert - Co-pilot
#3 - TREGO, Yvonne - Stewardess
#5 - FORD, Mr. and Mrs. Edward
#6 - KORN, John
#7 - TEAGUE, H.S.
#8 - NARE, M.P.
#9 - NOVAK, Alex
#10 - VALANCE, Miss E.

LOCATION: Rice Canyon, Saugus

On this date Chief Criminal Deputy William Bright, received a phone call from Mr. Kimmel, Operating Manager, United Airport, Burbank, that a United Airplane carrying 12 passengers was missing and thought to be in the vicinity of Antelope Valley.

At this time I have sent a general teletype to Lancaster to immediately institute a search in the vicinity also notifying Santa Barbara of Mr. Kimmel's message.

I have also detailed Captain Morgan, Aero Detail, to assist.

On December 20th at 8:15AM Deputy Sheriff A.A. Hopkins called the writer at his home and informed him that a United Airlines airplane was long overdue and had probably crashed. Captain Hopkins was advised to call members of the Sheriff's aero squadron, and to report to the writer and John Kimmel., Operations Manager of United Airlines at the Union Air Terminal (Ed. - now called Hollywood-Burbank Airport), Burbank, California, as soon as possible.

The writer proceeded to the Union Air Terminal and found that six of the Sheriff's Aero Squadron members had already assembled there. Plans were being made for the search, when information was received at 10:25 AM that parts of the airplane had been seen on the peak of a mountain about four miles southwest of the emergency landing field at Saugus, CA.

The writer immediately called the record Bureau of this office, giving them this information. Also called the Newhall Substation, informing them that the writer was going to fly over the mountain range to the same location of the missing airplane and would then fly over the substation at Newhall, requesting that Captain Marty, Deputies and cars meet him at the emergency landing field at Saugus.

With a member of the Sheriff's Aero Squadron at the controls, Mr. May Stephen's and the writer took off from the Union Air Terminal at 10:40 AM and after circling the mountain around Newhall several times, the wreckage was located near the top of Oat Mountain. Then flew over Newhall Substation and soon afterward Captain Marty and Deputies were met at the emergency landing field.

We then drove to Rice Canyon and proceeded in automobile as far as possible, continuing on foot due to the muddy condition of the road. Captain Marty and members of his substation crew proceeded via the road, while Mr. Stephen's, Deputy Story and the writer continued through the canyon. Captain Marty and his party were there upon our arrival.

Captain Marty, the writer and Deputies remained at the scene until about 7:00 PM, keeping the curiosity seekers away and assisting in removing bodies from the wrecked airplane. The bodies were taken out of the plane, but on account of the inaccessibility of the terrain, rain, sleet and darkness, we were unable to remove them from the location.

We then left the scene of the accident for the purpose of securing food, dry clothing, lights, stretchers and blankets, and also horses and wagons, in order that we might return to the scene and bring the bodies out.

At the time of our arrival at the scene of the crash, Untied Airlines officials; namely, John Kimmel, Joe Ables and other members of that organization, were there.

Upon our arrival at the highway about 9:15 PM, Investigators J.B. Fox and Morris Blansland, with about fifteen deputies were there and were organizing to bring the bodies out by use of horses.

Writer returned to Los Angeles, and on the following day was requested to proceed to the Aero Detail Headquarters of the Los Angeles Police Department at Wilmington to brief them about the accident.

From the Newhall Signal of 12/31/1936

From the Los Angeles Times of 12/29/1936

From the Los Angeles Times of 12/29/1936

Pictures of crash site from Los Angeles Times of 12/29/1936

From the Lethbridge (Alberta, Canada) Herald 12/29/1936

From the Lethbridge (Alberta, Canada) Herald 12/29/1936

From the Lethbridge (Alberta, Canada) Herald 12/29/1936

Picture of crash site from the (Reno) Nevada State Journal, December 30, 1936

Some of the dead including the pilot. From the Sandusky, Ohio, Register, December 30, 1936.

Some more victims including the co-pilot. From the Syracuse, New York, Herald, December 29, 1936.

Stewardess Yvonne Trego from the The Daily Courier, Connellsville, PA, December 30, 1936.

"Workers handling stretchers with the victims of a United Airlines plane crash near Saugus." Created by the UCLA Library and used with permission. From the Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive, Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA. Yo

"A stretcher supplied for the casualities of a United Airlines plane crash near Saugus." Created by the UCLA Library and used with permission. From the Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive, Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA. Yo

"Workers search for bodies at the site of a United Airlines plane crash near Saugus." Created by the UCLA Library and used with permission. From the Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive, Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA. Yo

"Workers search for bodies at the site of a United Airlines plane crash near Saugus." Created by the UCLA Library and used with permission. From the Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive, Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA. Yo

Report of the Accident Board of the Bureau of Air Commerce from the U.S. Department of Transportation historical aircraft accident reports (1934-1965) website.


May 12, 1937

Secretary Roper today made public the report of the Accident Board of the Bureau of Air Commerce in connection with the fatal air line accident near Newhall, California, on December 27, 1936. The report is as follows:


Statement of probable cause concerning an accident which occurred to an aircraft of United Air Lines Transport Corporation, near Newhall, California on December 27, 1936

To the Secretary of Commerce:

On December 27, 1936, at approximately 7:38 P.M. at a point about two miles southwest of Newhall, California, an airplane of United States registry, while being flown in scheduled interstate operation carrying mail, passengers and express, met with an accident which resulted in death to all persons on board and the complete destruction of the aircraft.

The pilot, Edwin W. Blom, held a Federal transport pilots license and a scheduled air transport rating. His semi-annual physical examination, taken on August 11, 1936, showed him to be in good physical condition. His license and rating were renewed on August 26, 1936. The co-pilot, Robert J. McLean, held a Federal transport pilots, license. His last physical examination, taken on July 23, 1936, showed him to be in good physical condition. The third member of the crew was Stewardess Yvonne Trego. Passengers aboard were as follows:

E. T. Ford, San Marino, California
Mrs. E. T. Ford, San Marino, California
M. P. Harem Los Angeles, California
John Korn, El Centro, California
A. L. Markwell, Los Angeles, California
Mrs. W. A. Newton, Los Angeles, California
Alex Novak, El Centro, California
H. S. Teague, Los Angeles, California
Miss Evelyn Valance, Los Angeles, California

The airplane, a Boeing, Model 247-D, was inspected and approved for renewal of license by the Bureau of Air Commerce on September 10, 1936, and bore Federal license number NC-13355. It was owned by the United Air Lines Transport Corporation of Change, Illinois, and at the time of the accident was being operated on the Oakland Division of this Corporation as Trip No. 34, scheduled from Oakland to Los Angeles, California, with one stop, at San Francisco. The airport serving Los Angeles is Union Air Terminal, Burbank, California. This operation was conducted under a valid Federal Letter of Authority.

Flight 34 was dispatched out of Oakland on schedule at 5:10 P.M. A stop was made at San Francisco and the flight departed from this point on schedule, 5:30 P.M., for Los Angeles (Burbank), due to arrive at 7:30 P.M. The weather at each terminal point was satisfactory for flight, Layers of clouds existed in the area between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The flight was properly authorized on the clearance form to fly over the top of the lower layer of clouds.

The flight over the greater part of the route was apparently uneventful, At 7:04 P.M., Pilot Blom reported to Bakersfield via radio that he was over the south edge of Buena Vista lake at 10,000 feet, descending slowly through broken clouds. At 7:06 P.M. he again talked to the Bakersfield station stating that he was now at 9,500 feet and changing to day frequency. Both messages were acknowledged by Bakersfield. At 7:09 P.M. the pilot, communicated with Burbank giving his estimated time of arrival there as 7:37 P.M. Following acknowledgement by Burbank, the pilot requested clearance into the area. This was given him by Burbank at 7:12 P.M. but receipt of this clearance was never acknowledged. Following this, ground stations called the flight at intervals and it was not until 7:29 P.M., 17 minutes later, that Pilot Blom was heard from again, at which tine he asked if Burbank could hear him and although acknowledgement of this call was given by Burbank, Fresno, Bakersfield and a pilot flying another schedule, no response came from Blom to indicate that he had received such acknowledgment. At 7:36 P.M. the co-pilot requested that the localizer (company owned low-powered radio range) at the Burbank Airport be turned on. This was done and the airplanes location requested. The co-pilots reply to this was, Just a minute. This was the last radio contact with the flight. A search was started when it became apparent that an accident had occurred and the wrecked airplane was first sighted from the air about 10:00 A.M. the following morning at the head of Rice Canyon.

An examination of the immediate terrain gave evidence that the airplane had first struck the ground at an elevation of 2620 feet while turning to the right with the wings banked at an angle of about 28 degrees and in level or slightly descending flight. Marks on the ground indicate that after striking, the airplane traveled in a compass direction of approximately 307 degrees. It passed through several trees shearing off the wings and right hand tail surfaces, and the right landing gear. The rest of the airplane continued as a unit 300 feet further where it struck the wall of a narrow canyon and slid back to the bottom thereof. An examination of surrounding terrain indicates that the airplane had just previously passed over an adjacent ridge which was approximately 200 feet higher than the point where the accident occurred.

A careful examination of the wreckage failed to indicate any structural failure of the aircraft. It was evident that both engines were operating at cruising speed or better at the time of the accident and that there was a considerable amount of fuel in the tanks. The landing gear was found in the down position.

There were no witnesses to the accident and available evidence is insufficient to definitely reconstruct the flight from Buena Vista Lake on. A farmer at Santa Paula, 25 miles west of the accident, stated that while listening over his short wave radio, he heard one of the pilots report that he had sighted the Saugus beacon and was coming in (meaning coming in for a landing at Burbank). Testimony of this witness appeared sound and it is possible that this report was made by Flight 34 and for some reason was unheard by any company station.

In the 7:06 P.M. radio contact with Bakersfield the pilot stated that he was changing to day frequency for radio contact. It is standard procedure when about to enter an area in which air traffic is controlled by a terminal airport radio station, to reverse radio frequencies, that is, to change to night frequency if entering in the day time or to change to day frequency if entering at night. In this way the airport radio control station can maintain communication with all flights within the control area without interference from other flights and nearby ground stations. Burbank has an airport radio control station, KBIA, which also furnishes the localizer.

The U. S. Weather Bureau weather forecast, a copy of which was a part of the pilot's clearance for the flight, indicated generally that ceilings in the Saugus-Burbank area would vary between one and three thousand feet and that there would be occasional light rain. The last regular hourly sequence weather report available to the pilot via radio contained the weather observations made at 6:41 P.M. and broadcast from Fresno at 6:50 P.M. and from Los Angeles at 6:55 P.M. At this time the estimated ceiling and visibility for Saugus was 3500 feet and 20 miles, for Burbank, 3000 feet and 20 miles, with lower broken clouds at 1800 feet. The 7:41 observation, three minutes after the accident, gave the ceilings and visibilities at these points as: Saugus, 2000 feet and 12 miles and Burbank, 1700 feet and 10 miles, with a few breaks in the overcast. Light rain was reported at both points. This weather was still definitely above the minimum requirements for an instrument approach to Burbank. Other pilots flying in the vicinity at or near the time of he accident reported the presence of heavy static in the clouds at times and also low broker clouds in Newhall Pass. Headwinds between Buena Vista Lake and Burbank were stronger than anticipated, as both the airport official and other pilots had underestimated arrival times at Burbank by a few minutes.

The two radio contacts (7:04 P.M. and 7:06 P.M.), made while Flight 34 was at and a short distance south of Buena Vista Lake, show definitely that it had started a slow descent. This descent, however, starting from a point approximately 85 miles from Burbank, does not indicate whether the pilot's intention was to lower from the 10,000 feet at which he had been flying to 4,500 feet for an instrument approach over the pass to Burbank or to continue to descend to an altitude which would enable him to fly through the pass by visual methods. Likewise, the landing gear being down gave no indication of the pilot's intention, as it is customary to lower the landing gear when in the vicinity of Saugus, either for visual of instrument approach.

The accident occurred exactly one minute later than the pilot's estimated arrival time at Burbank. Bad static conditions existed in the clouds at the time and it is possible that the pilot, making an instrument approach, was letting down through the clouds at the time of the accident, thinking he was in the immediate vicinity of Burbank. Several things, however, suggest the improbability of this. Principally, an instrument approach to Burbank is premised on a definite position fix at Saugus, approximately 18 miles from Burbank. Failing in a definite fix at this point, the flight should proceed to a designated alternate airport. The accident occurred at a point approximately four miles south of Saugus and it is hardly reasonable to this that the pilot, starting from a fix at Saugus, descended at this point, thinking he was over Burbank, which is fourteen miles further south. Also, other pilots flying in and out of Burbank at or near the same time, all flying higher than the immediate mountains, had little or no difficulty. The airways beacon light, located on the high point in the pass, was either seen or its glow recognized through the clouds by several of these pilots.

The available evidence strongly indicates that the pilot originally expected to be able to fly through the pass under the clouds by visual contact. The presence of heavy static in the clouds at times would make this desirable if practical. The latest regular weather report for the Burbank-Saugus area, from Fresno at 6:50 P.M. and from Los Angeles at 6:55 P.M. did indicate that a visual approach was possible. However, the general weather forecast for the entire area, given the pilot as a part of his clearance, indicated the possibility of the changes which did occur. The pilot displayed no particular concern about the weather. By his own calculation, he expected to arrive at Burbank a few minutes before the 7:41 P.M. hourly weather observation sequence would be broadcast and although several radio contacts were effected, there is no evidence that he ever asked for weather information which was available to him upon request.

The evidence further suggests that after getting into the pass at an altitude lower than is permitted for an instrument approach, the pilot decided that conditions were not favorable for flying through the pass by visual contact. It was raining at the time and broken clouds probably partially obscured the airways beacon light on the high point in the pass at times. It is also probable that static was encountered in these clouds.

The attitude and direction in which the airplane struck the ridge indicate definitely that it was executing a turn, and make it appear that after getting into the pass and deciding against proceeding by visual contact, the pilot elected to get back out of the pass to start an instrument approach from a more favorable point, rather than to ascend directly into the clouds for an instrument approach from within the pass.

The co-pilot's reply of "Just a minute" was made while the airplane was in this turn and less than two minutes before the accident occurred (7:38 P.M.) There was nothing in the manner in which this message was given to indicate the slightest alarm and it suggests a desire on the part of the co-pilot to delay giving the requested position report until the turn had been completed. The existence of stronger headwinds than anticipated would account for the presence of the flight in the pass at the approximate time which the pilot, 27 minutes earlier, had estimated that he would arrive in Burbank.

The evidence in the case tends to show that the pilot had no concern over his safety up to the very moment he decided to turn in the pass. He was intimately acquainted with the route and with the type of aircraft he was flying. His weather forecast predicted variable weather at Burbank. The last hourly weather report, if he received it, indicated that the weather was varying favorably. No effort seems to have been made by the dispatching or weather observing personnel to closely observe and acquaint the pilot with the unfavorable weather trend which developed between the 6:41 observation *** the time of the accident. Radio communications with other aircraft, part of which the pilot or his co-pilot must have heard, indicated that numerous other aircraft were moving in and out of Burbank without appreciable difficulty or delay. While, like the other pilots, he probably encountered heavy static in the clouds over the southerly 75 to 100 miles, he undoubtedly regarded this as a minor annoyance since the weather seemed satisfactory for visual approach, which would not require radio navigation, otherwise he would probably have circled about in one of the areas between the clouds where radio reception was clear, which would enable him to get exact weather information. On the other hand, variable weather conditions were forecast, particularly low clouds on the mountain ridges, and it seems to be common knowledge that weather conditions when variable can vary rapidly in the Burbank valley and over the exceedingly rough terrain north and northwest of it. It is also clearly established that at least four other flights in and out of Burbank within the hour, but which were undertaken at altitudes well above the mountains by radio or dead reckoning navigation, were completed successfully and without incident. There is no evidence whatever of emergency due to fuel shortage, mechanical difficulties or icing. It, then, seems inescapable that the underlying cause of the accident was the choice by the pilot of the visual approach.

It is the opinion of the Accident Board that the probable cause of this accident was an error on the part of the pilot for attempting to fly through the Newhall pass at an altitude lower than the surrounding mountains without first determining by radio the existing weather.

On Saturday May 15, 1954, there was another plane crash in Rice Canyon only this time there were no deaths. From the Bakersfield Californian, 5/17/1954

From the Ukiah, California, Journal, 5/17/1954