Burbank, CA American Airlines Plane Crashes, Jan 1945

CALIFORNIA WRECK Burbank 1-10-1945.jpg


Los Angeles, Jan. 11 -- (U.P.) -- From blackened military insignia and other identifying marks, Army and airline officials today sought to identify the burned bodies of 24 persons killed when an American Airlines passenger plane crashed in the foothills after turning away from the fog-shrouded Burbank airport early yesterday.

The victims included 18 Army men, three sailors and three crew members. All apparently were killed instantly, when the plane plowed into the slope and exploded, investigators said.

The plane bound from New York, was due at the airport shortly after 3:39 a.m.
At 4 a.m., the pilot, Capt. JOSEPH RUSSELL McCAULEY, 34, reported to the Burbank control tower and was advised that fog limited visibility.

Headed For Palmdale.
With sufficient gasoline for an additional three and a half hours, McCAULEY elected to try landing at an emergency field at Palmdale, 60 miles away, rather than attempt a Burbank landing.

The plane was not heard from again. Six hours later the fog lifted temporarily and the wreckage was sighted from the control tower. Search parties were delayed another two hours in reaching the scene by the brush-covered terrain and mist.

Lockheed Test Pilot JOE TOWLE, the first to arrive at the wreckage, located just five miles from the airport, reported all the occupants dead. A small brush fire had been started by flames from the smouldering wreckage, but had burned out.

Scattered Wreckage.
Chunks of the silver ship were scattered over the hillside. Pieces of tail and wings and one section of the fuselage had been tossed clear of the flames.

Civil Aeronautics Administration Inspector ROBERT V. KEELER said that the plane appeared headed on a roundabout northeastward route through the rugged San Gabriel mountains. The most traveled route was through Mint Canyon.

The dead crew members in addition to McCAULEY were: ROBERT G. ELTNER, 24, co-pilot, and LILA A. DOCKEN,22, stewardess. All were from Burbank.


AA 6001 FO Robert Gaylord Eltner's wife

My dad, John Young, was stationed (I think at Van Nuys), checking out radios in P-38s as they came off the line, but was an NCO on the military crew sent to help recover the bodies. He said the first officer's wife insisted on going up with them to make sure her husband had not been burned. He was most afraid of fire, and she told my dad that she had prayed for him not to have been burned, and had ultimate faith in an answer to her prayers that he had not been burned.

No matter how hard they tried to stop her, she kept following them until they gave in and helped her reach the wreckage with all the burned bodies in and around the wreckage. The only body not burned was her husband's, which I recall my dad saying was thrown clear of the burned wreckage. If there are any pictures of the section of the fuselage that had been tossed clear of the flames, I'd be interested to know if it was from near his position. His wife, though adamant he was not burned just based on faith, was almost serene in accepting his death once she saw he had really not been burned.

Her faith made a life long impression on my dad, and some has rubbed off on me, too.

Jim Young

My uncle,Major John Berger,

My uncle,Major John Berger, was one of those killed in this crash.He was on his way to the Philippines to see my dad who was stationed there.My uncle was the oldest of four boys -all serving in WWII at the same time. I don't think my poor grandmother ever recovered from this.

Thank You

Thank you for posting this article and for the crew list. My cousin Cpl. Ray C. Goudie was on board that plane. He and my mom were really close cousin's and she was devastated when he died. She is still alive and I was able to show her this article today. She said thank you also for the post.

AA Flight 6001 Crash

I lived very close to the crash site since 1951, but never heard about this crash.

Was actress Donna Reed bumped from felt 6001 in Texas that night.

Flight 6001

I read that the pilot turned left instead of right when aborting landing at Burbank. If he would have turned right he would have has more valley floor to work with.
I shared this story with Paul Peterson who said Donna Reed was like a 2nd mother to him from the Donna Reed TV Show.
The irony is that when I found out about this crash a few years ago, my family moved into a new house 5years later within less then 2,000ft.of the crash sight ,never knew about it and may have hiked right over the sight.

Flt American Airlines flt 6001

My understanding was that actress Donna Reed was scheduled to take that DC 3 flight but was bumped by a military officer in Texas.

I later discovered that the plane had crashed barely a half mile where I grew up in a newly built house in Burbank starting in 1951. None of us never knew anything about the crash but must have played in the area several times. I only learned about this in the last 3 years.

My Uncle, 1st. Lt. Byron W. Fisher, was killed in this crash

Among the Army officers aboard this flight, was my Dad's brother, Byron W. Fisher. I would love to contact the radio operator for American Airlines at Burbank when this accident happened.

I have been trying to compile a history of my Uncle, and have collected various newspaper articles and information, including the CAB report of this crash.

Tragically, my uncle was a B-17 co-pilot who flew 25 successful missions over occupied Europe and Germany in 1943, and then was ferrying new bombers from the factories in California to the War effort in Europe at the time of this accident. Though he survived combat as a pilot, he died as a passenger returning to California in this disaster.

Actress Donna Reed had been to Juarez, Mexico to get a quick divorce, and had boarded this flight across the boarder in El Paso, to return home. The Book, "In Search of Donna Reed", says she was bumped by a Military Officer on a wartime priority pass, which saved her life. According to my Aunt, Uncle Byron had flown into El Paso from Atlanta, the day before, and had decided to stay there and catch a later flight due to concerns about the weather. He then boarded this flight. As he boarded the flight late in El Paso, and as he was one of only five Military Officers on board, I believe he may have been the Military Officer who bumped Donna Reed.

A full list of those killed in the crash of American Airlines Flight 6001 are as follows:

Captain Joseph Russell McCauley, age 38, Burbank, California.
First Officer Robert Gaylord Eitner, age 25, Burbank, California.
Stewardess Lila Agnes ("Mickey") Docken, age 22, Burbank, California.

Private First Class Robert George Beckwith, age 23, Erie, Pennsylvania.
Major John S. Berger, Jr., age 38, Bronx, New York.
First Lieutenant Byron W. Fisher, age 23, Long Beach, California.
Corporal Ray C. Goudie, age 24, Indianapolis, Indiana.
Corporal Oliver R. Hoover, age 23, Arcadia, Kansas.
Sergeant Phillip Kaufman, Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.*
Flight Officer Woodrow W. Kramling, age 28, Auburn, California.
Private First Class Bruce H. Mahnken, age 29, Junction, Texas.
Corporal John William May, age 22, Auburn, Maine.
Private First Class Raymond M. McPhearson, age 34, Hydro, Oklahoma.
Private Stanley W. Pluenneke, age 21, Mason, Texas.
Private Patrick Joseph Rohan, age 36, Holyoke, Massachusetts.
Private George Rosenthal, age 22, New York City.
Corporal Stanley James Stahura, age 38, Hackensack, New Jersey.
Corporal David O. Tanner, age 23, Oneida, New York.
Private Samuel A. Zaharopolos, age 47, Akron, Ohio.
Private William Frederick Zilke, age 28, Detroit, Michigan.

* There was one remaining unidentified Army passenger (unreleased as of January 13, 1945), when this list was first published, but his name was found in a January 18, 1945 article about the crash investigation in the LA Times. The LA Times story did not list his age.

Lieutenant Gordon Leroy Dockstader, age 37, New York City.
Chief Carpenter's Mate James E. Hardy, age 26, Norfolk, Virginia.
Radioman 2nd Class Samuel A. Montanarella, age 20, Rochester, New York.
Radioman 3rd Class Reuben Pickett, age 25, Mount Pine, Arkansas.

I was the radio operator for

I was the radio operator for American airlines at Burbank when this accident happened.