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.


Taliban to quit peace talks if US troops are not pulled out of Afghanistan

Updated 37 min 11 sec ago
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Taliban to quit peace talks if US troops are not pulled out of Afghanistan

  • The threat came as US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad arrived in Kabul to brief the government and politicians on his engagement in the region regarding the peace process
  • Khalilzad is meeting President Ashraf Ghani, CEO Abdullah, and political leaders to discuss the next steps in efforts to support and facilitate an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process

KABUL: The Taliban said on Tuesday they would call off peace talks with the US if its troops were not pulled out of Afghanistan. The threat came as the US special envoy landed in Kabul.

Zalmay Khalilzad arrived in Kabul to brief the government and politicians on his engagement in the region regarding the peace process.

Last month, it was reported that President Donald Trump had ordered the withdrawal of thousands of troops. 

But there has been speculation the US wants to keep some military bases in Afghanistan, and that it is pushing the Taliban to hold direct talks with Kabul.

The Taliban has objected to government involvement in its meetings with Khalilzad and wants foreign troops to leave Afghanistan.

The armed group said the US must pursue the peace talks with “sincere intentions” or it would be forced to stall all talks and negotiations until its “unlawful pressures and maneuvering” ended. 

“The United States agreed during the Doha meeting in November to discuss the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan and prevent Afghanistan from being used against other countries in the upcoming meeting,” the Taliban said, accusing the US of “backing out from that agenda and unilaterally adding new subjects.”

The US Embassy in Kabul said Khalilzad was meeting President Ashraf Ghani, CEO Abdullah, and political leaders to discuss the next steps in efforts to support and facilitate an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process.

His arrival in Kabul followed stops in India, the UAE and China.

Mohammad Akbari, one of those at the meeting, said Khalilzad had expressed optimism about his efforts and regional cooperation but had not revealed why he was so hopeful.

Khalilzad later tweeted about the “good session” in Kabul.

“We discussed the peace process & all agree that progress depends on Afghans sitting with each other, negotiating a future for all Afghan people,” he said.

The US Embassy said the goal was to promote dialogue among Afghans about how to end the conflict, and to encourage parties to come together at the negotiating table to reach a political settlement in which every Afghan citizen “enjoyed equal rights and responsibilities under the rule of law.” 

Ahmad Zia Rafat, a political science professor, said peace talks in a normal country faced ups and downs but there would be more hurdles when it came to Afghanistan because of the war’s complexity. 

“We had 40 years of war so one should not expect a quick resolution of the crisis. The first priority for peace is for Afghanistan and Pakistan to settle their historical differences,” he told Arab News.

“If you have consensus in a realistic manner between these two countries, then you are depriving the Taliban from a key supporter, long believed to be Pakistan. Then you can forge consensus in the region and reintegrate the Taliban in the political mainstream.”