May 6

73 Years Ago Today: Hindenburg, “Oh the Humanity”

Thursday, May 6, 2010 12:44 AM


It was the early evening of May 6, 1937 when the German Hindenburg made its fatal descent into Naval Air Station Lakehurst in New Jersey. Radio broadcaster Herbert Morrison famously wept for the humanity as the airship burst into flames and crashed to the ground. 35 passengers and one member of the ground crew were killed. Amazingly, 62 people managed to escape the fiery wreck.

The cause of the accident is still a fiercely debated topic, with competing theories blaming sabotage, static electricity, gas leaks and malfunctioning engines.

Often overlooked is the fact that the tragic crash over the Atlantic of the airship USS Akron on April 3 1933 took a bigger toll, claiming the lives of 73 of the vessel’s 76 US Navy crew members. The Hindenburg is better remembered because of the spectacular footage that captured its final moments.

Interestingly, the three survivors of the Akron were rescued by German sailors, while US sailors pulled German passengers from the wreckage of the Hindenburg.

U.S. Sailors Guide a severely burned victim to medical assistance

U.S. Navy Sailor assists passenger Marie Kleemann

U.S. Navy Sailors aid a survivor as Hindenburg smolders in the background

The body of a crewman who died after jumping from 100 ft to escape the flames

A guard protects the wreck from scavengers

Radio announcer Herb Morrison of WLS reports on the aftermath of the crash

Ground crews remove the Hindenburg wreckage

The burned out hulk of the Hindenburg

h/t Faces of the Hindenburg

  • No story about the Hindenburg crash is complete without mentioning the heroism of Navy Chief Petty Officer Frederick J. “Bull” Tobin. Tobin was an enlisted airship pilot and highly experienced airshipman who was in charge of the Navy landing party. As the ship began to crash and people on the ground ran for their lives, Tobin, realizing there were people aboard the ship who would need help, cried out to his sailors: “Navy men, Stand fast!” Tobin had survived the crash of USS Shenandoah, and he was not about to abandon those in peril on an airship, even if it meant his own life. And his sailors agreed. Films of the disaster show sailors running toward the burning ship, while others ran away, to rescue survivors.

  • Indeed, Bull Tobin and the rest of the US Navy ground crew deserve a lot of credit for having helped to rescue those trapped in the wreck.

    By that same token, I think note should be made of the group of rescuers who actually climbed up into the wreckage of the passenger decks and led several elderly survivors out of the ship in the few minutes before the fire consumed the dining room.

    I don’t know the names of everyone who entered the wreckage to help those passengers, but among them were four Hindenburg crewmen (steward Fritz Deeg, navigators Christian Nielsen and Eduard Boetius, Captain Walter Ziegler), and an Esso fuel truck driver named Emil Hoff. It was primarily due to their bravery that five of the Hindenburg’s older passengers were able to escape the wreck (though one of them, a Mr. Otto Ernst from Hamburg, Germany, passed away in hospital nine days later.)

  • Mike M.

    I just wish someone had cut the microphone on that hysterical twit of a reporter.

  • Chandra Rivera

    Emil Hoff…my Great Grandfather…
    I have always occasionaly searched for any recognition of my Great-Grandfather being there that day. He helped rescue several people from the burning wreckage of the Hindenburg. Finally, someone has acknowledged him here, Emil Hoff, my Great Grandfather is now somewhere in the history of this tragic day. Love to all of those who were involved.

    Patrick Russell – How dod you come across this information? Historical information somehwere that I have missed or personal knowledge? I’d really like to know.

    Thank you so much!

  • Hi Chandra,

    I was given a bunch of information on Emil Hoff by a family member about a year ago. He was also mentioned by name by a couple of the Hindenburg’s crew members when they testified to the Board of Inquiry after the disaster.

    Drop me an email (my email address can be found on my “Faces of the Hindenburg” web page) and I’ll gladly share with you what I have on your Great-Grandfather. ;^)

  • Howard “Hal” Hallecks

    My daughter may have contacted you earlier this year regarding a document presented to Emil Hoff signed by Adolf Hitler regarding Emil’s lifesaving actions during the Hindenberg disaster.

    This document was given to Emma Rindfleisch by Emil. Emma was my mother and I believe Emil Hoff was her cousin.

    I am seeking information about Emil, or any living relative, and would love to hear from them. Also, have you any photos of Emil?

  • Chandra Rivera

    Oh wow, this is insanely great that we could connect like this.

    Patrick, i will get your email address and contact you. Thank you so much. Are you related in any way?

    Hal,this is awesome. So what would that make you and I? Cousins somewhere down the line. Nice. Yes we have lots of pictures of him and the rest of the family. We will share them all. Are you residing in Germany or the United States? Emma, was his wife, but I’m sure there’s a few more Emma’s in the family. 🙂

    Hope to hear from you both soon. I will check this site much more often now that I know I actually have correspondence.

    Thank you,

  • matt oconnor

    my father Raymond f. OConnor was detailed to the site at or around the time of the wreck. Do you have any record of him. He was . I believe he was on a destroyer in the port of NY. He was a torpedo man possibly a CPO at the time.

  • Bri Wann

    Hey he’s my great grandfather too (Emil) want to chat sometime?