Werner Franz, last surviving Hindenburg crew member, has died

Werner Franz, the last surviving crew member of the airship LZ-129 Hindenburg, died on August 13, 2014, at the age of 92.  

The sole living survivor of the Hindenburg crash is now Werner Doehner, who was an 8 year old passenger traveling with his family.

franz-crew-cropWerner Franz was born in Frankfurt-Bonames on May 22, 1922, and he was only 14 years old when he joined the Deutsche Zeppelin-Reederei as cabin boy on Hindenburg, serving the ship’s officers and crew by shining shoes, making beds, setting tables, washing dishes, bringing coffee, and doing other chores.

Young Werner was clearing dishes in the officers’ mess when the Hindenburg caught fire while landing at the Lakehurst Naval Air Station on May 6, 1937.  Franz heard a thud, and he felt the ship shake and point sharply upward as the burning tail crashed to the ground.  Hydrogen flames roared above and behind him as the ship titled more steeply, and then a ballast tank ruptured, dousing Franz with water.

With his water-soaked clothes offering some protection from the heat and flame, Franz made his way to a nearby hatch that was used to bring provisions aboard the zeppelin.  Franz kicked the hatch open and watched the ground approach as the airship sank toward the field, and dropped to the ground when it seemed close enough. Hindenburg’s bow rose up momentarily, as seen in films of the crash, allowing Franz to run from the flaming wreckage before it settled to the ground. He emerged from the crash almost completely unharmed.

The next day Franz went to the wreck site with a U.S. Navy airship officer, Lieutenant George F. Watson, to search for his pocket watch, a gift from his grandfather.  He knew exactly where to look and found the watch. 

franz-bookFranz recounted his story in a book published in Germany in 1938, Kabinenjunge Werner Franz vom Luftschiff Hindenburg by W.E. von Medem

Franz returned to Germany with other surviving members of the crew and began an apprenticeship as a precision mechanic. Franz served as a radio operator and instructor in the Luftwaffe during World War II and worked as a technician for the German Federal Post Office after the war. He also served as a professional roller and ice skating coach whose students included Olympic figure skating partners Marika Kilius and Franz Ningel.

Franz is survived by his wife of 52 years, Annerose, and their children and grandchildren.  

News of Franz’s death was shared by family friend and noted airship historian Dr. John Provan.  The family requested that news of his death not be made public until after the funeral for reasons of privacy.

As Dr. Provan commented, “Werner Franz ““ das letzte Zeppelin Besatzungsmitglied ging von Bord.”  Werner Franz, the last zeppelin crew member has disembarked.


Werner Franz, 2003. (Photo: Dr. John Provan)

Leave a Reply

5 Comment threads
2 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
6 Comment authors
Dagmara LizlovsDan GrossmanRonMilan ZivancevicJasmin Heim Recent comment authors
newest oldest most voted
Notify of

Thu 29 Jan 2015 1200 hrs. Howdy, Does anyone know where I can obtain a copy of his “Cabin boy – Hindenburg” a copy which is translated into English? I have an original copy in German. I have tried but with no luck. Please Advise and point me in the… Read more »

Dagmara Lizlovs
Dagmara Lizlovs

Sorry to hear of the passing of Werner Franz. Thank you for sharing the news. I came across this video of an interview with Werner Franz on you tube.


News took me by surprise. All I can say, his was a life well lived.

Milan Zivancevic
Milan Zivancevic

Sorry to hear this! RIP, mr. Franz.

Thanks for sharing the news, Dan. Off to Patrick’s blog now…

Jasmin Heim
Jasmin Heim

I’m very sorry too to hear of Mr. Franz passing. He was my skating coach from 1975 to 1982. Mr. Franz was a adorable person. I wish him the best and hope that a part of him ist still there.

Patrick Russell

I’m very sorry to hear of Werner’s passing. I had the good fortune of meeting him and spending some time talking with him (in my rather spotty German) when he came to the States for one last visit to Lakehurst in 2004. On that occasion, I had a framed copy… Read more »