Werner G. Doehner, Last Survivor of the Hindenburg, Dies at 90

Werner G. Doehner, the last survivor of the Hindenburg disaster, which killed three dozen people in 1937, died on Nov. 8 in Laconia, N.H. He was 90.

The cause was complications of pneumonia, his son, Bernie Doehner, said.

Werner Doehner was 8 years old and traveling with his parents, brother and sister when the immense German zeppelin that had spent three days crossing the Atlantic erupted in flames as it approached the Lakehurst Naval Air Station in New Jersey.

The disaster, which occurred just before 7:30 p.m. on May 6, 1937, was caught in newsreel coverage, radio broadcasts and photographs. Thirty-six people, including Mr. Doehner’s father and sister, were killed.

“My dad was secretive about the disaster and didn’t like to talk about it,” Bernie Doehner said on Saturday. “He was a really private person.”

Credit…via Bernie Doehner

The zeppelin was 800 feet long, more than three times the length of a Boeing 747, and 135 feet in diameter. It set out on its maiden voyage in 1936 and made 62 safe flights before its destruction.

“The Hindenburg was a huge flying billboard for German aeronautical supremacy,” said Rick Zitarosa, a historian and vice president of Navy Lakehurst Historical Society, who confirmed Mr. Doehner was the last survivor from the airship crash. “It was a great flying machine bearing 50-foot swastikas on its tail.”

On the day of the disaster, with 36 passengers, it was only half full, Mr. Zitarosa said, adding that the Doehners were financially comfortable enough to afford the luxurious transport from Frankfurt to Lakehurst, N.J., which is about 35 miles east of Trenton.

The Hindenburg was already delayed by bad weather, arriving hours later than planned. That same night, the airship was scheduled to return to Europe with 72 passengers in time for the coronation of King George VI of England, Mr. Zitarosa said.

The airship was minutes from landing when a hydrogen gas leak was met with static electricity, igniting the Hindenburg, which was about 175 feet in the air. Within 34 seconds, it crashed in a blaze, killing 13 passengers, 22 crew members and one man on the ground, he added.

When the Hindenburg caught fire, Mr. Doehner’s mother dropped him and his brother from the cabin window before jumping out herself.

All three suffered burns and were hospitalized for several months before returning to Mexico, according to news coverage at the time. His father died at the scene and his sister died later at a hospital.

Though Mr. Doehner rarely spoke of the disaster, Bernie Doehner said, he took him to Lakehurst once when he was an adolescent.

“The naval commander was nice enough to show us around, but there wasn’t really much there,” Bernie Doehner said. “I don’t remember my dad saying much.”

Werner Gustav Doehner was born on March 14, 1929, in Darmstadt, Germany, to Hermann and Matilde Doehner. He grew up in Mexico City, the youngest of five, and graduated from National Autonomous University of Mexico with a degree in electrical engineering.

He married Elin Doehner on July 21, 1967, in Essen, Germany, and then moved to Mexico City, according to an obituary posted by the Cremation Society of New Hampshire.

“They met while skiing in the Alps,” Bernie Doehner said. “They were just in the right space at the right time, as the saying goes.”

Mr. Doehner worked as an electrical engineer in Mexico and Ecuador before moving with his wife and son to the United States to work for General Electric in 1984.

“There were many facets to my dad,” Bernie Doehner said. “He was a bit of a dinosaur, a connoisseur of old operas and classical music. He was into remote-controlled airplanes and lots of traveling, but he valued the education of his kid above everything else.”

Mr. Doehner retired in 1999, and moved to Parachute, Colo., in 2001, before relocating to Laconia, N.H., with his wife last year. He is survived by his wife and son.