Last survivor of Hindenburg disaster: ‘The air was on fire’

A May 6, 1937 file photo provided by the Philadelphia Public Ledger shows the moment the Hindenburg exploded over the Lakehurst Naval Air Station in New Jersey. (AP)
Updated 08 May 2017
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Last survivor of Hindenburg disaster: ‘The air was on fire’

TRENTON, N.J.: Wind and thunderstorms had delayed the Hindenburg’s arrival in New Jersey from Germany on May 6, 1937. The father of 8-year-old Werner Doehner headed to his cabin after using his movie camera to shoot some scenes of Lakehurst Naval Air Station from the airship’s dining room.
“We didn’t see him again,” recalled Doehner, now 88 and the only person left of the 62 passengers and crew who survived the fire that killed his father, sister and 34 other souls 80 years ago Saturday.
Doehner and his parents, older brother and sister were returning from a vacation in Germany and planned to travel on the 804-foot-long Hindenburg to Lakehurst, then fly to Newark and board a train in nearby New York City to take them home to Mexico City, where Doehner’s father was a pharmaceutical executive.
The kids would have preferred the decks and public rooms of an ocean liner because space was tight on the airship, Doehner said in a rare telephone interview this week with The Associated Press from his home in Parachute, Colorado.
Their mother brought games to keep the children busy. They toured the control car and the catwalks inside the hydrogen-filled Hindenburg. They could see an ice field as they crossed the Atlantic Ocean, he remembered.
As the Hindenburg arrived at its destination, flames began to flicker on top of the ship.
Hydrogen, exposed to air, fueled an inferno. The front section of the Hindenburg pitched up and the back section pitched down.
“Suddenly the air was on fire,” Doehner said.
“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 get out of there.” Their mother joined them and asked a steward to get her daughter, whom he carried out of the burning wreckage.
A bus took the survivors to an infirmary, where, Doehner said, a nurse gave him a needle to burst his blisters.
From there, the family was taken to Point Pleasant Hospital. Doehner had burns on his face, both hands and down his right leg from the knee. His mother had burns on her face, both legs and both hands. His brother had several burns on his face and right hand.
His sister died early in the morning.
He would remain in the hospital for three months before going to a hospital in New York City in August for skin grafts. He was discharged in January, and the boy, a German speaker, had learned some English.
The family returned to Mexico City, where funerals were held for Doehner’s father and sister, who were among the 35 fatalities of the 97 passengers and crew aboard the airship. A worker on the ground also died.
The US 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. “The theory that a brush discharge ignited such mixture appears most probable,” the department’s report said.
Eight decades later, Doehner is the only one left to remember what it was like on the Hindenburg that night. A ceremony commemorating the disaster took place at the crash site Saturday night.


Trump drops new North Korea sanctions because he ‘likes’ Kim

In this file photo taken on February 27, 2019 US President Donald Trump (L) speaks with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un during a meeting at the Sofitel Legend Metropole hotel in Hanoi. (AFP)
Updated 23 March 2019
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Trump drops new North Korea sanctions because he ‘likes’ Kim

  • “President Trump likes Chairman Kim and he doesn’t think these sanctions will be necessary,” the president’s spokeswoman, Sarah Sanders, said

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump on Friday abruptly announced the cancelation of sanctions imposed by his own Treasury Department to tighten international pressure on North Korea.
“It was announced today by the US Treasury that additional large scale Sanctions would be added to those already existing Sanctions on North Korea. I have today ordered the withdrawal of those additional Sanctions!” Trump said in a tweet.
He appeared to be referring to measures unveiled Thursday that targeted two Chinese companies accused of helping North Korea to evade tight international sanctions meant to pressure Pyongyang into ending its nuclear weapons program.
But The Washington Post reported, citing Trump administration officials, that the president’s tweet referenced future sanctions that had not been announced and were scheduled for “the coming days.”
The Thursday sanctions were the first new sign of pressure since talks between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un broke down in Hanoi less than a month ago.
However, Trump, who has previously spoken of “love” for the totalitarian leader, appears to retain hope that his strong personal relationship will bear fruit.
“President Trump likes Chairman Kim and he doesn’t think these sanctions will be necessary,” the president’s spokeswoman, Sarah Sanders, said.
Adam Schiff, a Democrat who heads the intelligence committee in the House of Representatives, blasted Trump for canceling sanctions “imposed only yesterday and championed by his own national security adviser, because he ‘loves’ Kim.”
“Foolish naivete is dangerous enough. Gross incompetence and disarray in the White House make it even worse,” Schiff tweeted.
On Thursday, Trump national security adviser John Bolton had tweeted that the sanctions were meant to put an end to “illicit shipping practices” by North Korea.
“Everyone should take notice and review their own activities to ensure they are not involved in North Korea’s sanctions evasion,” he said.
China complained, saying that it did enforce all UN resolutions and opposed “any country imposing unilateral sanctions and taking long-arm jurisdiction against any Chinese entity according to their own domestic laws.”
This was Trump’s second major, unexpected foreign policy announcement by Twitter in two days.
On Thursday, he sent a tweet reversing decades of US policy and pledged to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the hotly contested Golan Heights border area with Syria.