Today is the 78th anniversary of the tragic end of the Hindenburg zeppelin. The airship burst into flames on May 6, 1937 and was destroyed in less than a minute.
There were 36 passengers and 61 crewmen on the Hindenburg, and despite the fact the ship turned into a plummeting inferno, the majority of those aboard survived thanks to the heroic rescue efforts by the civilian onlookers, airmen, and ground crew. Sadly, 13 passengers, 22 members of the aircrew, and 1 ground crew member were killed.
There are many theories as to why the Hindenburg initially caught fire. Personally, I think it was a combination of static electricity and the incredible flammability of hydrogen, but the conspiracy theories of sabotage are intriguing to ponder.
There is one living survivor of the Hindenburg disaster – Werner Doehner. He was 8 years old and had embarked with his family from England to America. His mother threw him and his brother out of a window to save them.
“Her husband was nowhere to be found, still somewhere on the other side of the passenger deck. She gathered her children together as a few more people nearby leaped to the ground ahead of them, then she made her way to the window as the fire began burning its way into the dining room. The ship’s hull was now on the ground, but had landed in such a way that the portside observation windows were still about 15-20 feet in the air. Mrs. Doehner saw Deeg standing on the ground below, calling to them. She picked up Walter [Werner’s older brother] and dropped him out of the window … she tried to drop Werner through the same window, but he bounced off of the window frame and she had to grab him a second time and try again. The boy’s hair and face were burning by the time she got him out the window, but [a steward named Fritz Deeg] caught him, patted out the fire, and quickly carried him to safety. Mrs. Doehner then turned to Irene, who was screaming for her father and refusing to jump. She tried to pick Irene up and toss her through the window, as she’d done with the boys, but Irene was too heavy for her to lift. The girl ran toward the central cabin area where she’d last seen her father, and Mrs. Doehner had no choice but to follow her sons out the window. She tried to keep her feet underneath her, but she landed badly and injured her pelvis. Severin Klein [a steward] had just run back to the ship as Mrs. Doehner landed, and he helped Chief Steward Kubis to carry her away from the wreck as she called out for her daughter.
Werner, his mother, and his brother Walter survived, but Doehner’s father and sister did not.
“Mrs. Doehner and her two sons were taken to one of the limousines that had been onhand to shuttle the passengers to the hangar. She was asking about her husband and daughter, but Hermann had never made it out of the wreck, and Irene was burned so badly that Kubis and the others didn’t want her mother to see her. Matilde Doehner, her two sons, Walter and Werner, and her daughter Irene were taken to Point Pleasant Hospital that night. Irene was still alive when they brought her in, but was burned badly enough that one of the attending nurses actually fainted at the sight of her injuries. Irene Doehner died during the night.
Hermann Doehner was still listed in the newspapers as “missing” the following morning. His body was recovered that day, and he was later identified by his wedding ring.”
Werner Doehner moved from Mexico to the US with his wife and family in the 1980s, and is now retired and living in Colorado. He, understandably, still remains reluctant to speak to the press about the events on the Hindenburg due to the emotional pain of those memories.