Last survivor of Hindenburg zeppelin disaster dies at 90, family says

Published: Sunday, November 17, 2019 @ 8:32 AM

This May 6, 1937, file photo, provided by the Philadelphia Public Ledger, was taken when the Hindenburg exploded over the Lakehurst Naval Air Station in Lakehurst, New Jersey.
Associated Press/File
This May 6, 1937, file photo, provided by the Philadelphia Public Ledger, was taken when the Hindenburg exploded over the Lakehurst Naval Air Station in Lakehurst, New Jersey.(Associated Press/File)

Werner Gustav Doehner, the last survivor of the Hindenburg zeppelin disaster in 1937, died Nov. 8 in Laconia, New Hampshire, a family member said. He was 90.

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Doehner died from complications of pneumonia, The New York Times reported. His death was confirmed by his son, Bernie Doehner, the Times and CNN reported.

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Werner Doehner was 8 years old and traveling with his parents, brother and sister on the German zeppelin on May 6, 1937, when it burst into flames and crashed as it approached the Lakehurst Naval Air Station in Lakehurst, New Jersey. The zeppelin was concluding a three-day trip across the Atlantic Ocean when it crashed, the Times reported.

Thirty-six people, including Doehner's father and sister, were killed in the crash, which occurred just before 7:30 p.m. The disaster was caught in newsreel coverageradio broadcasts and photographs. The broadcast, by radio reporter Herb Morrison, is famous for his emotional call of the disaster and the memorable quote, "Oh, the humanity!"

"It basically robbed him of his father and sister, and left him with lasting scars," Bernie Doehner told CNN, adding his father rarely talked about the incident. "He had one (scar) all down his leg and he had nine skin graft operations and one of his ears was badly damaged."

The aircraft was 800 feet long and 135 feet in diameter, the Times reported. It had made 62 safe voyages since its 1936 debut.

“The Hindenburg was a huge flying billboard for German aeronautical supremacy,” Rick Zitarosa, a historian and vice president of the Navy Lakehurst Historical Society, told the newspaper. Zitarosa also confirmed Werner Doehner was the last survivor from the airship crash. “It was a great flying machine bearing 50-foot swastikas on its tail.”

Doehner's mother dropped him and his brother out of the cabin window when the fire erupted and then jumped out herself, the Times reported.

"We were close to a window, and my mother took my brother and threw him out. She grabbed me and fell back and then threw me out," Doehner told The Associated Press in a 2017 interview. "She tried to get my sister, but she was too heavy, and my mother decided to get out by the time the zeppelin was nearly on the ground."

According to his obituary, Doehner was born in Darmstadt, Germany, but spent his childhood in Mexico City. He married his wife, Elin, in July 1967. He moved to the United States in 1984 and worked for General Electric as an engineer, the obituary said.

He retired in 1999 from the New England Electric System.