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August 29, 2014

Werner Franz, Last Surviving Hindenburg Crew Member, Has Died

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Written by: Dan Grossman
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Werner Franz, the last surviving crew member of the airship LZ-129 Hindenburg, died on August 13, 2014, at the age of 92. The sole living survivor of the Hindenburg crash is now Werner Doehner, who was an 8 year old passenger traveling with his family.

franz-crew-cropWerner Franz was born in Frankfurt-Bonames on May 22, 1922, and he was only 14 years old when he joined the Deutsche Zeppelin-Reederei as cabin boy on Hindenburg, serving the ship’s officers and crew by shining shoes, making beds, setting tables, washing dishes, bringing coffee, and doing other chores. Young Werner was clearing dishes in the officers’ mess when the Hindenburg caught fire while landing at the Lakehurst Naval Air Station on May 6, 1937. Franz heard a thud, and he felt the ship shake and point sharply upward as the burning tail crashed to the ground. Hydrogen flames roared above and behind him as the ship titled more steeply, and then a ballast tank ruptured, dousing Franz with water.

With his water-soaked clothes offering some protection from the heat and flame, Franz made his way to a nearby hatch that was used to bring provisions aboard the zeppelin. Franz kicked the hatch open and watched the ground approach as the airship sank toward the field, and dropped to the ground when it seemed close enough. Hindenburg’s bow rose up momentarily, as seen in films of the crash, allowing Franz to run from the flaming wreckage before it settled to the ground. He emerged from the crash almost completely unharmed.

The next day Franz went to the wreck site with a U.S. Navy airship officer, Lieutenant George F. Watson, to search for his pocket watch, a gift from his grandfather. He knew exactly where to look and found the watch. Franz recounted his story in a book published in Germany in 1938, Kabinenjunge Werner Franz vom Luftschiff Hindenburg by W.E. von Medem

Franz returned to Germany with other surviving members of the crew and began an apprenticeship as a precision mechanic. Franz served as a radio operator and instructor in the Luftwaffe during World War II and worked as a technician for the German Federal Post Office after the war. He also served as a professional roller and ice skating coach whose students included Olympic figure skating partners Marika Kilius and Franz Ningel. Franz is survived by his wife of 52 years, Annerose, and their children and grandchildren.

News of Franz’s death was shared by family friend and noted airship historian Dr. John Provan. The family requested that news of his death not be made public until after the funeral for reasons of privacy. As Dr. Provan commented, “Werner Franz – das letzte Zeppelin Besatzungsmitglied ging von Bord.” Werner Franz, the last zeppelin crew member has disembarked.

 

Dan Grossman has been researching, writing, and speaking about the technology and history of airships and zeppelins for over 20 years. He has worked on television documentaries, consulted for museums around the world, and frequently works with writers and journalists who are looking for information about airships. Read more on his Airships website.



About the Author

Dan Grossman





 
 

 

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