A sad postscript to my recent post on the Zeppelin museum was the news that the last surviving crew member, Werner Franz, has recently died at the age of 92.
He joined the crew as a cabin boy aged 14 and was on the ill-fated voyage when the airship exploded and was destroyed in 30 seconds on May 6 1937.
13 of its 36 passengers, 22 of its 62 crew, a ground worker and a pet dog perished. (At least one of the surviving passengers is still alive).
He never had the chance to fly in a Zeppelin again as the crash destroyed public confidence in airships even though they were twice as fast as any transatlantic liner.
He probably survived because he was in the mess stacking dishes and was doused in water from a storage tank which protected him from the heat and flames as he kicked open a hatch and jumped for his life before the airship hit the ground. He had the survival instinct to run into the wind and away from the flames then stood and watched with the other survivors as it burnt down to its skeleton.
He stayed in New York for 9 nine days, attended a dock-side memorial service, testified before the US board of inquiry and got in some sight-seeing before he went home on the Europa steamship.
He reached Bremerhaven on his 15th birthday and thought of his escape as a “heavenly gift”. He suffered panic attacks for years but wanted to make the most of the second chance he’d been given.
During WWII he was a radio operator in the Luftwaffe then joined the postal service at the end of the war repairing machinery. He indulged his passion for skating and became a coach, one of his pupils winning two Olympic silver medals.
In 2004 he attended the opening of a new museum in Lakehurst with his son and visited the crash site for the last time.
Source: the Times obituary