The Stories Behind the Stones

Cemeteries are like libraries. They contain the final resting places of thousands of people, each with their own separate and unique story. Some of these people are famous, and their stories are well known. Most are not, but that doesn't make their lives any less interesting or their stories any less worthy of being told and remembered.

Periodically, we'll spotlight a different Los Angeles-area grave. Every person has a story, and we will use this space to tell their story, through their final resting place.


The Eight Victims
of the Mid-Air Collision and Crash in Pacoima

Jan. 31, 1957

Jan. 5, 2013 -- On Thursday, Jan. 31, 1957, at about 10:15 a.m. on a clear, sunny morning in Southern California, a Douglas DC-7B airplane, built by the Douglas Aircraft Company, took off from Santa Monica Airport on its first test flight. The aircraft was intended for delivery to Continental Airlines, and had already been painted with the airline’s logo and colors. The flight took off with a crew of four Douglas test personnel -- pilot William Carr, 36; co-pilot Archie Twitchell, 50; radio operator Roy Nakazawa, 28; and flight engineer Waldo Adams, 42.

The Douglas DC-7B, powered by four engines, was designed for long-distance flights, and was popular with U.S. commercial air carriers in the 1950s, before the introduction of commercial jets. The test flight was estimated to take two hours and 15 minutes, and the plane was carrying six hours worth of fuel. The DC-7B was nearly 112 feet long, with a wingspan of 115 feet. At take-off, the plane weighed 88,000 pounds.

Thirty-five minutes later, at about 10:50 a.m., in Palmdale, Calif., about 50 miles north of Los Angeles on the other side of the San Gabriel Mountains, two U.S. Air Force F-89J Scorpion interceptor fighter jets built by Northrop Aircraft took off from Northrop's Palmdale Test Center. The F-89J Scorpions were powered by two jet engines and carried a two-person crew. The Scorpions were 53 feet, 8 inches long, with a wingspan of 59 feet, 10 inches -- roughly half the width and length of the DC-7B.

The Scorpion jets were also on a test mission, to check their on-board radar equipment before delivery to the Air Force. According to the plans for the test, the jets would take turns serving as radar targets, to check the equipment on the other jet. The first jet’s crew consisted of pilot Roland Owen, 35, and radio operator Curtiss Adams, 27, both Northrop employees. Owen was a veteran Navy flier, a test pilot with more than 1,000 hours in Scorpions, and Northrop’s chief of production flight tests.

Because of the clear weather conditions, all of the aircraft were operating under visual flight rules (VFR), under which the pilot is able to operate the aircraft with visual reference to the ground, and by visually avoiding obstructions and other aircraft, as opposed to instrument flight rules (IFR), in which the operation of the aircraft is primarily through the use of instruments rather than visual reference, usually due to poor visibility caused by weather. Pilots flying under VFR assume responsibility for their separation from all other aircraft and are generally not assigned routes or altitudes by air traffic control. VFR provides a great degree of freedom, allowing pilots to go where they want, when they want, and allows them a much wider latitude in determining how they get there.

About 20 minutes after the jets took off from Palmdale, at Pacoima Junior High School, hundreds of seventh- and eighth-grade students were out playing on the school’s blacktop playground during third-period gym class. The whistle had just been blown to call the girls back into the school, and more than 200 boys were finishing up their activities and lining up near the school gym, waiting for the announcement to call them back inside. At the same time, the ninth-grade students were gathered in the school auditorium, practicing for their upcoming graduation ceremony, which was to be held the next day. In the auditorium, class valedictorian Linda Luttrell was speaking in front of about 800 classmates, Principal David Schwartz, Vice Principal William Billingsley and several teachers.

At about 11:15 a.m., both the DC-7B and the first Scorpion fighter jet were flying at an altitude of about 25,000 feet in clear skies over the San Fernando Valley. The Scorpion jet made a wide, 90-degree turn, and headed east. As it completed its turn, the jet slammed nearly head-on into the left wing of the westbound DC-7B, shearing off a portion of the wing. At the time of the crash, the DC-7B traveling at an estimated speed of 380 mph, while the Scorpion jet was traveling close to 440 mph.

The Scorpion burst into flames immediately after the collision, and continued heading east. Adams was able to bail out of the jet, but Owen was killed when it crashed in La Tuna Canyon in the Verdugo Mountains, about two and a half miles from the point of the collision.

Witnesses said the DC-7B continued west, then started rolling to its left in a steep descent. Witnesses also saw a shower of metal pieces, reflecting the late morning sunlight, falling from the left wing as the plane continued to roll and started to spin.

The DC-7B's last radio message came from Twitchell, the co-pilot -- "Mid-air collision! Mid-air collision! Ten-How (the plane's radio designation). We're going in ... Uncontrollable ... Uncontrollable! We're going in. We've had it, boy. Poor jet, too. Told you we should take chutes. Say goodbye to everybody."

On the ground, about four miles west of the collision, some of the students on the playground at Pacoima Junior High School saw the doomed aircraft heading toward the school. For a few moments, the students simply watched as the plane came toward them, smoke pouring from its left wing. The children were certainly used to seeing planes, even low-flying planes. The San Fernando Valley was home to several airports and the booming post-war aviation industry.

But this was different. The plane seemed to be out of control, quickly descending, and heading straight for them. Most of the students weren’t sure what had happened or what they should do. Finally, they simply ran -- some of them away from danger, some of them directly into it.

As the plane got closer to the ground and its speed increased, larger pieces began breaking off. Finally, at about 700 feet off the ground, when the speed of the plane exceeded its structural limitations, it exploded, breaking up completely and showering the school playground with huge chunks of twisted metal, smoking wreckage and burning fuel.

Wreckage from the plane covered a path of more than two miles, and pieces of the DC-7B -- everything from large pieces of metal to stuffing from the airliner’s seats -- were later found on rooftops, hanging from trees and fences, and scattered across lawns and streets around the school.

All four crewmembers on board the DC-7B were killed on impact. Their remains were found in the wreckage of the fuselage, which slammed upside-down into the ground at Pacoima Congregational Church, near the corner of Laurel Canyon Boulevard and Terra Bella Street, adjacent to the school. Part of an engine crashed through the roof of the church auditorium, smashing windows and injuring Nathan Whisnant, 30, a church worker. The plane’s four engines were all nearly buried in the school playground.

Two students were hit by the falling debris and died on the playground -- Ronnie Brann, 13, and Robert Zallan, 12. A third student, Evan Elsner, 12, died two days later from his injuries. Among the 74 students who were injured on the playground, nearly all were 12- and 13-year-old boys, seventh- and eighth-graders, suffering from a wide assortment of burns, cuts, broken bones and shock, and were taken to several area hospitals. More than 10 were listed as serious or critical.

In the windowless school auditorium, where the ninth-grade class was practicing for their graduation ceremony, Principal David Schwartz sent a teacher outside to find out what had happened, then went to the microphone to calm the students. "That was just another sonic blast," he said. "We will go on with our program." When the power went out in the auditorium, Schwartz joked, "I'm afraid that we must have forgotten to pay our light bill."

When Schwartz, a Navy veteran of World War II, was told what had happened outside, he made another announcement to the students, trying to keep them calm. "An airplane has crashed on the schoolground," he said. "But it has not hit any buildings." When the auxiliary power system for the auditorium was turned on and the lights returned, the program continued.

Outside, students wandered across the playground, injured, bleeding and in shock, surrounded by thick black smoke and burning wreckage. Some of them left the playground and started to walk home. As teachers raced out of the school building to help the students, parents who lived in the neighborhood started to arrive at the school, frantically searching for their children.

Among the seriously injured was Richard Berger, 12, a talented young pianist in the school's music program. After the crash on the playground, Richard recalled, "I heard someone say, 'That guy's on fire,' and realized it was me. I looked at my hands and they were black and blistered. The cuffs of my jacket were smoldering, but my jacket was gone." Richard was taken to Valley Hospital in Van Nuys, where he was asked how he was able to get his clothes off. "I didn't take them off," Richard said. "They were burned off."

Richard suffered severe abdominal injuries, third-degree burns over 25 percent of his body, as well as second-degree burns, a deep gash across his back, and a large hole in the back of his left leg. His roommate at the hospital was Evan Elsner. After two days, Evan's bed was empty. "I woke up one morning and he was gone," Richard said. "No one said he died, but I knew he died, and I wondered if I was in the room where they put the people who were going to die."

There were also tales of heroism and survival. When 12-year-old Albert Ballou saw the plane heading toward the schoolyard, “I started running and then I dropped to the ground. I don’t know if I fell. After that, I don’t remember anything.” A chunk of metal hit Albert’s left leg, nearly severing it above the knee.

Physical education teacher John Vardanian had gone into the gymnasium to make the announcement for the boys to come back inside when he heard the plane approach, and then the sound of the crash.

Vardanian, who also taught first aid classes at the school, ran out onto the playground and saw Albert, his left leg mangled and gushing blood. Vandanian found a piece of rag and a chunk of metal from the plane and created a tourniquet around Albert’s leg to stop the severe bleeding. He kept pressure on the injury for nearly an hour, and likely saved Albert’s life.

Vardanian had served with the infantry in Normandy during World War II. "I've seen men die, but this was different," he said. "These were kids. ... My kids." The next day, Vardanian visited Albert in the hospital. (Vardanian died 12 years later, at the age of 47. Vardanian is buried at Forest Lawn, Glendale.)

Dr. Virgil P. Arklin, who had an office a few blocks from the school and had served in the Army Medical Corps in Japan during World War II, ran to the scene to see what he could to do help the injured students. "My nurse and I ran outside when we heard the explosion and saw smoke rising from the school ground," Arklin said. "Between us, we filled my bag with bandages, syringes and pain-killing medicine."

Arklin stabilized one student's broken leg, using a broken piece of pipe from the plane as a splint. "Many of the bad wounds bled very little, due to flash burns from the exploding gasoline that cauterized the injuries," Arklin said. (Arklin died less than four years after the crash, on Dec. 23, 1960, at the age of 38. Arklin is buried at Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills.)

In addition to the response from police officers and firefighters, parents, teachers and neighbors also rushed to the scene. Since there weren’t enough ambulances to transport all of the injured students, many people drove the children to one of four area hospitals, which made it difficult for their parents to find them later.

The uninjured students were gathered in the school’s library and auditorium, organized by homeroom, to be reunited with their parents.

Incredibly, although hundreds of pieces of flaming wreckage and debris were scattered at the school and throughout the residential neighborhood around the school, crashing through roofs and walls of houses, there were no other deaths or serious injuries. Three-year-old Jackie Kuehl was sitting in a chair in her home when a 50-pound chuck of wreckage crashed through the roof and landed next to her. She was not injured.

Part of an engine crashed through the roof of the Kuehl home and into their neighbor’s garage, smashing a car.

"When it came down and I heard the crash, I ran outside and laid on the children while fire flew through the air," said a woman who lived across the street from the school. "If there was a pilot in that plane, he was trying to find a clear spot -- and that field was the only one for blocks around. He was trying."

During the investigation after the crash, several witnesses said it appeared that the crew was attempting to control the stricken plane as much as possible, to bring it down in the only clear area in a neighborhood filled with homes.

"I saw a big ball of fire," said Joe Andrilla, a student at UCLA who also lived near the school. "I dropped to the floor to keep alive. Parts went ripping through the air, ripping holes through the house. A piece of the roof was torn off."

One witness said it looked as if the pieces of the plane had been shot like cannonballs through the walls and roofs of houses in the neighborhood.

Many of the students on the playground at the time of the crash later reported a long-time fear of airplanes and were hesitant to fly, even as adults. One of the Pacoima Junior High students who developed a fear of flying was 15-year-old Richard Steven Valenzuela, who soon became singing star Richie Valens.

Valens was such a talented musician, even in junior high school, that he often brought his guitar to school to play and sing for his friends during lunch period on the school bleachers. Valens, however, was attending his grandfather’s funeral and was not at the school on the day of the crash.

Because of the crash, which injured so many of Valens’ friends and classmates, he developed an intense fear of flying. When he dropped out of high school to concentrate on his music career, he realized that he would need to overcome his fear, which he did.

In early 1959, Valens was traveling throughout the Midwest as part of a multi-act rock-and-roll tour called "The Winter Dance Party," which included Buddy Holly, J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson, Waylon Jennings, and Dion and the Belmonts. Following a performance on Feb. 2, 1959, in Clear Lake, Iowa, Holly chartered a small plane to fly to the next stop, in Fargo, N.D. On board were Holly, Valens, Richardson and the pilot, Roger Peterson.

The plane took off in a snow storm at about 1 a.m., and crashed in a cornfield about five miles from the airport, killing all four aboard. The crash occurred three days after the second anniversary of the Pacoima crash.

The mid-air collision and Valens' fear of flying were repeatedly referenced in the biographical film, "La Bamba" (1987), which starred Lou Diamond Phillips as Valens.

The Cause of the Collision

Neither flight crew reported anything unusual before the crash. The only survivor among the six crewmembers on the two planes was Curtiss Adams, the radio operator on the F-89J Scorpion fighter jet.

"We had completed the second of three passes we were making to check our radar," Adams said. "I saw something loom up on the left side. There was a crash. We lost our cockpit canopy. Fire came in. There wasn't time to think of anything -- everything was fire and we were spinning toward the ground. I guess I bailed out, but I don't remember."

After a lengthy investigation, the collision was blamed on pilot error, and the failure of both aircraft crews to exercise proper “see and avoid” procedures regarding other aircraft while operating under visual flight rules (VFR).

Basically, the pilots and flight crews just didn't see each other.

The Aftermath

The crash caught the immediate attention of everyone from President Dwight Eisenhower on down. The day after the crash, Edward P. Curtis, Eisenhower's special assistant for aviation planning, sent a telegram to Los Angeles Mayor Norris Poulson. "The president has asked me to tell you that all federal agencies with responsibility for air safety have been directed to intensify their efforts to find additional means to help prevent a recurrence of such a tragic accident," Curtis wrote.

Meanwhile, residents of the area around Pacoima Junior High School and the school PTA demanded an immediate end to experimental and test flights over populated areas.

The collision and crash prompted the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB), a precursor to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), to set restrictions on all aircraft test flights, both military and civilian, requiring that they be made over open water or specifically approved sparsely populated areas. It also prompted a new statewide school disaster plan in California.

The collision and crash resulted in more than $10 million in lawsuits -- more than $80 million in today's dollars -- including many filed by the victims and their families against the two aircraft companies. Douglas sued Northrop for nearly $2 million for the loss of its DC-7B, blaming the crew of the F-89J jet for failing to detect the other plane in time to avoid the crash. The suit was settled before the trial started in 1964. Exact terms of the settlement weren't disclosed, other than to say that Douglas "had been paid for a substantial part of its loss."

Albert Ballou, 12, who lost his leg in the crash, was awarded $112,500 in a suit filed against Douglas and Northrop. Vito Galasso Jr., 13, who suffered severe burns over 70 percent of his body, was awarded $105,000. Many of the other suits were settled out of court.

The crash also emphasized the need for a hospital in Pacoima. At the time of the crash, the nearest medical facility was the Sun Valley Receiving Hospital in Van Nuys, several miles from Pacoima. Quickly after the crash, a campaign was launched to raise $1 million in donations to build a hospital in Pacoima. The hospital was originally planned to be built at the corner of Remick Avenue and Montague Street, just a few blocks away from the school. But the location was changed based on predictions of future population growth in the area.

The funding goal was quickly reached and, on Nov. 10, 1960, the 100-bed Pacoima Memorial Lutheran Hospital opened at 11600 Eldridge Ave., as a "permanent and living memorial" to the children killed and injured in the crash at the school. Vito Galasso Jr., a student at the school who suffered severe burns in the crash, participated in the dedication ceremony. (The hospital was severely damaged in the 1971 Sylmar earthquake, and was rebuilt and reopened as the Lake View Medical Center. The facility closed in March 1986 due to financial difficulties.)

The School

Pacoima Junior High School changed its name to Pacoima Middle School in 1992. For 50 years after the crash, the only memorial at the school was a commemorative plaque from the Los Angeles Chapter of the American National Red Cross, which honored the school staff "for meritorious services rendered" in treating injured students, saving lives, and controlling the chaotic situation on the playground following the crash.

But on Jan. 31, 2007, the 50th anniversary of the crash, a memorial ceremony was held at the school, featuring a presentation by Linda Luttrell, valedictorian of the class of fall 1956, who was speaking in the school auditorium when the plane crashed. The ceremony included the planting of a mulberry tree in memory of the crash victims.

The ceremony also included a performance of "There is Always Hope," by the Pacoima Singers, the school's musical theater group, and ended with a performance of Richie Valens’ "La Bamba" by the school band.

The Survivor

Following the collision, Curtiss A. Adams, the radio operator on the F-89J Scorpion fighter, was able to bail out of the eastbound jet before it crashed in flames in La Tuna Canyon in the Verdugo Mountains. Adams parachuted onto a garage roof in Burbank. He was taken to St. Joseph Hospital in Burbank, where he was treated for second- and third-degree burns on his face and hands, and a broken leg suffered when he landed.

A few days after the crash, Adams was interviewed at the hospital, and said he "couldn't understand how the accident happened. He [Owen] was an excellent pilot. He was always alert and his head was like it was on a swivel -- always moving. He was a very precise flier and I just don't understand how it could have happened."

"Owen didn't call out to me or say anything before the crash," Adams said. "I remember feeling heat and a kind of orange-colored fog around me. Then I pulled the lever and blew the canopy, then the seat trigger." Asked how the pilot could have missed seeing the DC-7B, Adams shook his head and said, "I wish I knew."

After ejecting from the jet, Adams looked up to see burning holes in his parachute. As he drifted to the ground, he realized that his flight helmet was on fire, so he ripped it off and threw it to the ground.

At the time of the crash, Adams had been working for Northrop Aircraft for just over six years. He remained working at Northrop until 1960, when he left to take a position at Litton Indistries, a defense contractor, where he worked until 1966. He later moved to Oregon, where he died on May 15, 2002, at the age of 72.

The Victims

Pilot Roland E. Owen, 35
(Feb. 7, 1921 – Jan. 31, 1957)

Roland Earl Owen, the pilot of the F-89J Scorpion interceptor fighter jet, was born on Feb. 7, 1921, in California, the son of Claude J. Owen and Florence Mabel Blevins Owen. His father worked as a railroad conductor and as a painter, and his mother worked as a sales clerk in a department store.

Owen enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps on Sept. 5, 1940, when he was 19 years old. He was discharged on June 28, 1945.

Owen started working for Northrop Aircraft in October 1951, when he was 30 years old. At the time of the crash, more than five years later, he was the chief of production flight tests for the company. He held an airman certificate with commercial and instrument ratings, and he also held a formal certificate of authority from the U.S. Air Force to fly the F-89 fighter jet. Owen had accumulated 2,754 flying hours, including 1,320 in jet aircraft and 1,249 hours in jets similar to the F-89.

Owen was killed a week before his 36th birthday. Funeral services for Owen were held at the Church of the Recessional at Forest Lawn Memorial-Park in Glendale, with the Rev. Charles Surber of the First Presbyterian Church of Palmdale delivering the eulogy.

Owen, a resident of Palmdale, left a widow, Carolyne; a son, Gregory James Owen, 2; his parents; and a sister, Yuba Owen Westmyer of Santa Barbara.

Owen was buried at Forest Lawn, Glendale, in the Court of Freedom. His parents, Claude (1892-1971) and Florence (1896-1982), are buried nearby.

Pilot William Carr, 36
(June 15, 1920 – Jan. 31, 1957)

William George Carr, the pilot of the DC-7B, was born June 15, 1920, in Chicago, Ill., the son of William Charles Carr, a real estate salesman, and Beatrice M. Park Carr. When Carr was a child, the family moved to Pasadena, Calif.

Three days after his 22nd birthday, on June 18, 1942, Carr enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps to serve during World War II. He served in North Africa, England, India and France, and attained the rank of captain by the time he was discharged on Nov. 22, 1945.

Carr started working for Douglas Aircraft Company on Jan. 14, 1952. He held a valid airman certificate with an airline transport rating and rating for the DC-7 aircraft. Carr had a total of 11,757 flying hours, including 598 hours in DC-7 type aircraft, and he worked for Douglas as both a test pilot and a flight instructor overseas to teach foreign pilots how to handle Douglas-built equipment.

Carr lived in Pacific Palisades with his wife, Margaret J. Eck Carr, and their two children, 10-year-old Richard Allen Carr, 10, and 8-year-old Pamela Joan Carr.

Carr’s funeral services were held at the Church of the Recessional at Forest Lawn Memorial-Park in Glendale, with the eulogy delivered by the Rev. B.F. James of the Presbyterian Church of Pacific Palisades. Carr left his widow, their two children, his parents, and a younger brother, John Ross Carr of Pasadena.

Carr was buried at Forest Lawn, Glendale, in the Eventide section. His parents, William (1890-1978), an Army veteran of World War I, and Beatrice (1889-1975), are buried nearby.

Co-Pilot Archie Twitchell, 50
(Nov. 28, 1906 – Jan. 31, 1957)

Archie Raymond Twitchell was born Nov. 28, 1906, in Pendleton, Ore., the son of Elanson E. "Lonnie" Twitchell, a construction worker, and Julia E. Smith Twitchell. His father was a building contractor. After his parents divorced, Twitchell moved with his mother to Los Angeles, where she owned a beauty shop.

In the late 1930s, Twitchell started to appear in small, uncredited roles in films, primarily for Paramount Pictures, making his debut in "Sophie Lang Goes West" (1937). He also appeared in "This Way Please" (1937), starring Buddy Rogers and Betty Grable; "Hold 'Em Navy" (1937), starring Lew Ayers and Mary Carlisle; "Daughter of Shanghai" (1937), starring Anna May Wong, Charles Bickford and Buster Crabbe; "The Big Broadcast of 1938" (1938), starring W.C. Fields, Martha Raye, Dorothy Lamour and Bob Hope; "Her Jungle Love" (1938), starring Lamour and Ray Milland; "Cocoanut Grove" (1938), starring Fred MacMurray, Harriet Hilliard and Ben Blue; "You and Me" (1938), starring George Raft and Sylvia Sidney; "Men With Wings" (1938), starring MacMurray and Milland; "The Texans" (1938), starring Randolph Scott and Joan Bennett; "Give Me a Sailor" (1938), starring Lamour, Hope, Raye and Betty Grable; "Spawn of the North" (1938), starring Raft, Lamour and Henry Fonda; "Disbarred" (1939), starring Robert Preston and Gail Patrick; "St. Louis Blues" (1939), starring Lamour and Lloyd Nolan; "Union Pacific" (1939), starring Joel McCrea and Barbara Stanwyck; "Buck Benny Rides Again" (1940), starring Jack Benny; "Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum" (1940), starring Sidney Toler; "Dr. Kildare Goes Home" (1940), starring Lew Ayres, Lionel Barrymore and Laraine Day; "I Want a Divorce" (1940), starring Joan Blondell and Dick Powell; "North West Mounted Police" (1940), starring Gary Cooper and Paulette Goddard; "Young Bill Hickok" (1940), starring Roy Rogers; "I Wanted Wings" (1941), starring Milland and William Holden; "Caught in the Draft" (1941), starring Hope and Lamour; "Kiss the Boys Goodbye" (1941), starring Don Ameche and Mary Martin; "Bad Man of Deadwood" (1941), starring Rogers; "Among the Living" (1941), starring Albert Dekker and Susan Hayward; "The Fleet’s In" (1942), starring Lamour and Holden; "Sing Your Worries Away" (1942), starring Bert Lahr, June Havoc and Buddy Ebsen; "Saboteur" (1942), starring Robert Cummings and Priscilla Lane; and "The Major and The Minor" (1942), starring Millard and Ginger Rogers.

Twitchell enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps on July 11, 1942, and was described as the second actor to enlist in military service following the start of World War II, after James Stewart. Twitchell served in Africa and the Middle East, and attained the rank of captain by the time he was discharged on Jan. 18, 1944, and returned to working in films, again appearing in small, uncredited roles.

After the war, Twitchell appeared in "Angel on My Shoulder" (1946), starring Paul Muni, Anne Baxter and Claude Rains; "Suddenly It's Spring" (1947), starring MacMurray and Goddard; "Dishonored Lady" (1947), starring Hedy Lamarr and Dennis O'Keefe; "Robin Hood of Texas" (1947), starring Gene Autry; "Out of the Past" (1947), starring Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer and Kirk Douglas; "Fort Apache" (1948), starring John Wayne, Henry Fonda and Shirley Temple; "The Saxon Charm" (1948), starring Robert Montgomery and Hayward; "Mighty Joe Young" (1948); "Chicago Deadline" (1949), starring Alan Ladd and Donna Reed; "Bride for Sale" (1949), starring Claudette Colbert, Robert Young and George Brent; "The Gunfighter" (1950), starring Gregory Peck; "Sunset Blvd." (1950), starring William Holden and Gloria Swanson (Twitchell played the clerk in the men's store where Swanson takes Holden to buy him new clothes -- "As long as the lady is paying for it, why not take the Vicuna?"); "Follow the Sun" (1951), starring Glenn Ford and Baxter; "The Long Wait" (1954), starring Anthony Quinn and Charles Coburn; and "Illegal" (1955), starring Edward G. Robinson and Jayne Mansfield.

After Twitchell retired from films, he went to work for Douglas Aircraft Company on Feb. 2, 1955. He held a valid airman certificate with airline transport and DC-7 ratings. As a pilot, he had accumulated 7,115 flying hours, including 287 in the DC-7.

Twitchell’s funeral services were held at Valhalla Memorial Park in North Hollywood, with Sammy Mason, a Lockheed test pilot and long-time friend, officiating. Twitchell left his widow, Sherma Evelyn, and his mother, Julia Twitchell. Julia Twitchell died in Los Angeles in May 1977 at the age of 93.

Twitchell was buried near Valhalla’s Portal of the Folded Wings, a memorial, museum and shrine to aviation pioneers. Twitchell’s grave is next to the grave of Federico Giorgi, the sculptor of the structure, which was built in 1924 and was originally known as the Valhalla Memorial Rotunda. His grave is across the road from a model of the Space Shuttle, which was installed in 2007 as a memorial to the seven crew members who were killed when the Challenger broke apart shortly after launch on Jan. 28, 1986, and the seven crew members who were killed when the Columbia disintegrated during its return to earth on Feb. 1, 2003.

Radio Operator Roy Nakazawa, 28
(Feb. 3, 1928 – Jan. 31, 1957)

Roy Terou Nakazawa was born in Washington on Feb. 3, 1928, the third of five children born to Gensei Nakazawa and Sei Tashiro Nakazawa, immigrants from Japan.

During World War II, after the family had moved to Long Beach, where Gensei Nakazawa sold fruit, they were sent to the Rohwer War Relocation Center in southeastern Arkansas. During the war, the U.S. government decided that all people of Japanese ancestry were to be removed from the entire Pacific coast area, including all of California and much of Oregon, Washington and Arizona, and moved to internment camps. The Rohwer Center was in operation from Sept. 18, 1942, to Nov. 30, 1944, and held as many as 8,475 people of Japanese ancestry who were forcibly evacuated from California.

After returning to Los Angeles from the relocation camp, Nakazawa enlisted in the U.S. Army on March 8, 1946, to serve in the Panama Canal Department.

Nakazawa started working at the Douglas Aircraft Company on May 26, 1952. At the time of the crash, he was a flight line technician in the electronics division, and also held a second-class radio operator’s license.

Nakazawa, who died three days before his 29th birthday, left a widow, Helene. They had been married for only two months.

An estimated 500 people attended Nakazawa’s funeral services in the tiny chapel of the Gardena Valley Japanese Baptist Church, with the Rev. H. Nishimoto, church pastor, conducting the services. Nakazawa was buried in Green Hills Cemetery in San Pedro (now Green Hills Memorial Park in Rancho Palos Verdes).

Flight Engineer Waldo Adams, 42
(March 8, 1914 – Jan. 31, 1957)

Waldo Beryl Adams was born March 8, 1914, in Wallace, Idaho, the son of Beryl Warden Adams and Hulda Marie Lundgreen Adams. A few years later, the family moved to Montana, where Adams’ father worked as an electrical engineer.

In the early 1930s, Adams moved to Minnesota, and married Birdian Bernice Peterson. Their first son, Eugene Wayne Adams, was born Jan. 9, 1935.

In 1937, the family moved to Southern California and Adams started work at the Douglas Aircraft Company, and had a second son, Gary Warren Adams. By 1940, Waldo Adams’ parents were divorced, and his father was living with the family in Los Angeles, while his mother was living with her widowed mother in Idaho. Adams’ mother later moved to Los Angeles, where she died in 1946, at the age of 51. Adams’ father died in 1968, at the age of 85.

At the time of the crash, Adams held a valid airman certificate with flight engineer, airframe, engine and commercial pilot ratings, and had been working for Douglas for 20 years. Company records showed that he has accumulated 2,711 flying hours as a flight engineer, including 278 hours in DC-7 aircraft.

Adams’ funeral services were held at the Wee Kirk o’ the Heather Church at Forest Lawn Memorial-Park in Glendale. Adams was buried in the Meditation section of the cemetery. He was survived by his widow, two sons and his father.

Adams' widow, Birdian, remarried in September 1957. The couple moved to Idaho, and her second husband died in 2008. She died in Idaho in 2010, at the age of 92.

Adams’ parents, Beryl (1883-1968) and Hulda (1894-1946), are also buried at Forest Lawn, across the road from their son, in the Liberty section.

Ronnie Brann, 13
(March 7, 1943 – Jan. 31, 1957)

Ronald Duwaine Brann was born March 7, 1943, to William Duwaine Brann and Virginia Bach Brann in California. His family lived on Vena Avenue in Pacoima, about a block away from the junior high school.

After hearing the sound of the airplane explosion and crash, Ronnie’s mother raced from their home to the school to check on her son. A police officer at the scene told her, "You're lucky, madam. Parents of the dead children have all been told."

So Virginia Brann, assuming that her son was OK, returned home to await his return. When he didn't arrive home two hours later, she went to Sun Valley Receiving Hospital, where many of the victims had been taken. When she arrived, a doctor told her that her son had died.

"No, no," she screamed. "I didn't even kiss him goodbye this morning!" A photograph of the moment when Virginia Brann learned of her son's death appeared the next day in the Los Angeles Times.

In addition to his parents, Ronnie was survived by a younger sister, Sharon Marie Brann, 5. His father, William, died in 1972, at the age of 51. His mother, Virginia, died in 2009 at the age of 85.

After funeral services at St. Ferdinand's Church in San Fernando, Ronnie was buried at San Fernando Mission Cemetery in Mission Hills, with his classmates serving as pallbearers. One of them, Carl Fox, 12, had been hit in the leg by a piece of shrapnel from the plane. Ronnie's grave marker identifies him as a "Victim of Pacoima Jr. High Air Crash."

Robert Zallan, 12
(July 19, 1944 - Jan. 31, 1957)

Robert Zallan was born July 19, 1944, in Ohio, the second of three children of David and Minnie Roudman Zallan.

The family moved to California in 1954, and lived on Wingo Street in Pacoima, a few blocks from Pacoima Junior High School. Robert's grandfather, Charles Roudman, also lived with the family.

Robert’s funeral services were conducted at the Eden Memorial Park Chapel in Mission Hills, officiated by Rabbi Samson Levey of Congregation Beth Torah, where Robert was preparing for his bar mizvah.

An estimated 300 people attended Robert’s funeral services, including five of his former teachers at Pacoima Junior High School; the school principal, David Schwartz; and at least one representative of one of the airline manufacturers involved in the tragedy.

Robert’s death, Levey said, may have been to “bring to attention the utter immorality and negligence of exposing needless multitudes to danger, destruction and death. If in Bobby’s death a community has been aroused … if innocent children no longer need to look to the sky in fright, then there was purpose in his death.”

Robert was buried at Eden Memorial Park in Mission Hills. In addition to his parents, he was survived by an older sister, Marilyn, 14, and a younger sister, Susan, 10.

Robert has since been joined at Eden Memorial Park by his father, David (1915-1970), and mother, Minnie (1917-1992).

Evan Elsner, 12
(Oct. 13, 1944 - Feb. 2, 1957)

Evan Elsner was born Evan Clark Meddy in Chicago, Ill., on Oct. 13, 1944, the son of William Frederick Meddy Jr. and Irene Johnson Meddy. His parents divorced in Chicago in 1950, when Evan was 5 years old, and his mother married Chester C. Elsner later that year.

The family moved to Pacoima and lived on Beachy Avenue, a few blocks from the junior high school. As the aircraft wreckage rained down on the schoolyard, Evan suffered multiple injuries to his abdomen, arms and right leg, and lost his left leg. He was taken to Valley Hospital in Van Nuys where he underwent two surgeries, but died two days later, on Feb. 2, 1957. He was the eighth and final victim.

Evan's funeral services were held at the Little Church of the Flowers at Forest Lawn Memorial-Park in Glendale, officiated by the Rev. James H. Kepler of the First Congregational Church of Pacoima -– the church where Evan hoped to someday become a minister. Evan was an acolyte at the church, lighting the candles before the services, and he was also active in the Boy Scouts, serving as senior patrol leader and chaplain of Troop 88.

"His room was filled with model airplanes and the usual things a boy collects," said Kepler. "He had plenty of friends. But he also kept a curious notebook. Apparently, he was much attracted by the personality of Jesus. In this notebook, he copied down the sayings of Jesus that particularly appealed to him. The last note that Evan jotted down reads: 'Into Thy hands I commend my spirit.' "

From a young age, Evan decided that he wanted to become a minister. "Curious that a boy would decide his mission in life so early," Kepler said. "But Evan had decided. He knew what he wanted to be."

Evan was cremated, and buried in the Gardens of Memory at Forest Lawn in Glendale. His mother and stepfather moved to Ventura County, and were divorced 10 years later, in 1967. His stepfather died in 1988 in Sedona, Ariz. Evan also had a sister, Lucinda Ruth Elsner.

Evan’s biological father, William Meddy Jr., a veteran of World War II and the Korean War, died in May 1970 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Evan’s mother, Irene, died four months later, and was buried with him at Arlington. Evan’s remains were moved there to join his parents (although the date of his death is incorrect on his grave marker). Evan is the only one of the eight victims of the crash who is not buried in Southern California.



For more information about the crash from survivors and witnesses ...

Russ Buchanan's website includes the only known audio recording of the actual crash. Buchanan's father, John Buchanan, was a teacher at the school and was recording Linda Luttrell's speech to her classmates in the school auditorium when the plane crashed into the playground. It's an amazing, chilling and horrifying audio. Buchanan's sister, Pam, 13, was a student at the school and had just come in off the playground when the plane hit. Buchanan's site also includes personal memories from students who were on the playground on the day of the crash.

Linda's last words before the plane crashed were, "We have only one life to live ...," before the screaming roar of the rapidly descending plane can be heard.

Joan Gushin's website includes lots of yearbook photographs, pictures of the school, and personal memories from students who were on the playground on the day of the crash. From the main page, click the "Then and Now" button.


Previous Grave Spotlights



Back to main page