The last remaining survivor of the Hindenburg disaster has died. Werner Gustav Doehner died at his home in Laconia, New Hampshire from complications of pneumonia, according to a statement from his son Bernie Doehner. He was 90. He is survived by his son and Elin Doehner, his wife of 52 years.
The disaster occurred just before 7:30 p.m. on May 6, 1937 as the aircraft attempted to land at Lakehurst Naval Air Station – which is part of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst today. Werner Doehner was 8 years old and was returning from a vacation to Germany aboard the Hindenburg with his parents, Hermann, 50, and Matilde, 41; an elder sister, Irene, 14, and elder brother, Walter, 10. The flight was the first of 17 scheduled transatlantic flights that year for the 800-foot-long zeppelin.
The day of the disaster, the Hindenburg was delayed by bad weather, complete with thunder, lightning and intense wind gusts. After circling the skies above New Jersey for hours, the flight crew was informed by radio that it had an hour window before another storm front was expected to move in. The captain and crew made the decision to take the opportunity to set down.
While still about 175 feet in the air, the immense German zeppelin erupted in flames. It was later determined that a leak of the hydrogen that kept the airship aloft was met with a static electrical discharge during the final approach. Within 34 seconds, the Hindenburg crashed in a ball of fire, killing 13 passengers, 22 crew members and one man on the ground.
Doehner’s mother managed to toss him and his brother from the burning airship out of the cabin window before jumping out herself. His father, who was headed to his cabin the last time Doehner saw him, died at the scene. His sister died at a hospital. His mother suffered broken bones and all three survivors suffered severe burns to their faces, arms and legs. Doehner would remain in the hospital for three months before going to another facility in New York City for skin grafts.