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Last Surviving Hindenburg Crewman Dead at 93

Werner Franz, the 14-year-old cabin boy who miraculously walked away from the Hindenburg explosion in Lakehurst in 1937, has died in his native Germany at age 93.

Explosion Over Lakehurst (Navy Lakehurst Historical Society)

Franz died on August 10, according to Carl Jablonski of the Navy Lakehurst Historical Society, who said he learned of it today. He was the last surviving crew member.

Jablonski kept active correspondence with all survivors of the disaster in the ensuing years, and most in their lifetimes accepted his invitations to attend the annual memorial service on the base grounds.

“He was here about seven years ago to pay his respects to his former crewmen who were lost that night,” Jablonski recalled. “He was so impressed with…the Hindenburg memorabilia in our collection. And we did keep in touch with him through the years.”

Franz emerged unscathed because a water ballast tank broke apart directly over him, drenching him and forcing him groundward, Jablonski said, adding that Franz never took the turn of events for granted.

“He said it took him quite a while to realize that, for some reason unknown to him, he was saved that night,” Jablonski said. “Perhaps to keep the spirit alive, for people to remember those who did perish.”

And to that end, Franz remained a faithful and cheerful correspondent to inquiries for the rest of his life. “He responded to the mail people sent him, to e-mails…he would sign autographs and pictures,” Jablonski said. “He just sent us a book about a year ago, with some current pictures showing him with his wife and family.”

Jablonski conjectured that the airship, once considered the vanguard of aviation’s future, left as deep an impression on the teenaged Franz as it did with people who watched the horror unfold. The two shared a mutual mission to keep the tragedy visible through a human perspective.

“This is a part of history that will never die,” Jablonski said. “It was recorded as it happened. We have images on film and tape, and in the minds of many people, including me.”

The sole survivor of the Hindenburg disaster now is Werner Donner, a resident of Parachute, Colorado, who was a passenger on the final flight.

 

 

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