Obituary: Werner Franz / Survivor of the Hindenburg’s crew

May 22, 1922 - Aug. 13, 2014

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Just before 7:30 p.m. on May 6, 1937, the Hindenburg, an immense German zeppelin that had spent three days crossing the Atlantic, erupted in flames as it approached its mooring mast at the Lakehurst Naval Air Station in central New Jersey.

Seen around the world in newsreel coverage and photographs, the disaster, which was attributed to an electric spark igniting the hydrogen gas that kept the airship aloft, killed 35 of the 97 people on board and another man on the ground.

Twenty-three of its 36 passengers survived. So did 39 of its 61 crew members, including Werner Franz, a 14-year-old cabin boy.

Mr. Franz died at 92 on Aug. 13 in Frankfurt, Germany. The death was confirmed by Dan Grossman, a historian whose specialty is airships. Mr. Franz was believed to be the last surviving crew member. At least one other survivor of the crash, Werner Doehner, who was 8 years old and traveling with his family at the time, is thought to be still living.

As he recalled his experience of the crash in a book published in Germany a year later, he had been clearing dishes in the officer’s mess when the Hindenburg began to burn.

“Franz heard a thud, and he felt the ship shake and point sharply upward as the burning tail crashed to the ground,” Mr. Grossman wrote on his website,, summarizing the German account. “Hydrogen flames roared above and behind him as the ship tilted more steeply, and then a ballast tank ruptured, dousing Franz with water.”

Mr. Franz was born in Frankfurt on May 22, 1922. He returned to Germany after the disaster, serving as a radio operator and instructor in the Luftwaffe during World War II, according to Mr. Grossman’s website. Afterward he worked for the German postal service and was also a skating coach. He is survived by his wife, Annerose, and several children and grandchildren.

Europe - Western Europe - Germany - Frankfurt

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