CONCORD, N.H. (CBSNewYork/AP) — It’s one of the most infamous tragedies in New Jersey history — forever remembered by the phrase “oh, the humanity!”
Now, over 80 years later, the last remaining survivor of the Hindenburg disaster has died.
Werner Gustav Doehner was the last living person of the 62 passengers and crew who escaped the May 6, 1937, fire. He was 90 years-old. The fire killed his father, sister, and 34 others. He was just eight years-old at the time and suffered severe burns to his face, arms, and legs before his mother managed to toss him and his brother from the burning airship.
“He did not talk about it,” his son Bernie Doehner said, adding that his father took him years later to visit the naval station where the disaster happened but not the Hindenburg memorial itself. “It was definitely a repressed memory. He lost his sister, he lost his dad.”
A church service was held Friday for Werner Doehner, who died on Nov. 8 at a hospital in Laconia, New Hampshire.
As the 80th anniversary approached in 2017, Doehner told The Associated Press that he and his parents, older brother, and sister were all on the 804-foot-long zeppelin traveling to Lakehurst Naval Air Station in New Jersey. The airship departed on May 3, 1937.
Doehner’s father headed to his cabin after using his movie camera to shoot some scenes of the station from the airship’s dining room. That was the last time Doehner saw him.
As the Hindenburg arrived, flames began to flicker on top of the ship. Hydrogen, exposed to air, fueled an inferno.
“Suddenly, the air was on fire,” Doehner recalled.
“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,” he said. “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.”
His mother had broken her hip.
“I remember lying on the ground, and my brother told me to get up and to get out of there,” he recalled. Their mother joined them and asked a steward to get her daughter, whom he carried out of the burning wreckage.
Carl Jablonski — president of the Navy Lakehurst Historical Society — told CBS New York back in 2017 the airship was for wealthy pre-jet setters. The trip from Germany to Lakehurst was two-and-a-half days.
“Airplanes did not have the capability to fly across the ocean,” Jablonski said.
Doehner would remain in the hospital for three months before going to another facility in New York City for skin grafts. He would recover, grow up, and have a life of his own. Doehner and his wife of 52 years, Elin, reportedly moved to Laconia in May 2018.
The U.S. Commerce Department determined the accident was caused by a leak of the hydrogen that kept the airship aloft. It mixed with air, causing a fire.
Although the final survivor has now passed, a memorial at that Manchester Township air center still marks the resting place of the Hindenburg 82 years later.
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)