United Airlines Flight 615 Crashes, Killing 50
At 04:25 Flight 615 was cleared for a straight-in approach on the southeast course of the Oakland radio range from Newark.
At 04:27 the flight reported leaving Newark inbound to Oakland. This was the last radio contact. The aircraft descended until it struck rising mountainous terrain at 983 feet MSL, 26 feet below the crest of the hill and approximately three miles to the right of the southeast on-course signal of the Oakland radio range. The major portion of the structure hurtled over the top of the knoll, scattering on the down-slope and into a canyon beyond. The captain was possibly using the ADF, allowing the DC-6 to be 3 miles to the right of the intended course and about 2500 feet below the 3500 feet minimum altitude. Cloud base was at 1500 feet with patches of fog obscuring terrain.
On board the plane, most of the passengers were still sleeping from the overnight flight. The stewardesses were starting the final arrangements to prepare for landing. At 4:28 am, a loud crash and explosion was heard in the hills behind the Masonic Home, in Union City. The loud noise woke up many of the locals. As they came out to see what was happening, a second explosion was heard. Smoke from a grass fire ignited from the engines and aircraft fuel, could be seen rising from the hills, marking the crash site of United Flight 615.
The flight reported over Stockton, California, at 4:11 a.m., at an altitude of 9,500 feet and descending. The flight was radioed the Oakland altimeter setting of 29.88 inches, which was acknowledged. Five minutes later, the flight reported passing the Altamont Intersection, and then contacted Oakland Approach Control for the first time. Approach Control cleared Flight 615 to the Oakland radio range station with instructions to remain no less than 500 feet above the cloud tops. United 615 then requested direct clearance to Newark with a straight-in range approach. The DC-6B reported that it was approaching the Hayward compass locator (between Altamont and Newark), and requested a straight-in Instrument Landing System (ILS) approach to Oakland. Flight 615 was instructed to stand-by for clearance until another aircraft in the area cleared. Captain Hedden then requested Oakland Approach Control to cancel his ILS approach request.
Oakland Approach Control's last instructions to the flight came at 4:25 a.m. The plane was cleared to fly from Newark on a straight-in approach on the southeast course of the Oakland radio range beacon. No further transmissions were received.
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. Heddin 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 was the last radio transmission received from the flight. The plane crashed into mountainous terrain 15 miles southeast of Oakland, careening into Tolman Peak and over its knoll, scattering on the downslope and into Dry Gulch Canyon below in a fiery explosion. All 50 persons on board perished.