Sunday, December 7, 2008

Birger Brinck


Passenger

Age: 36

Residence: Stockholm, Sweden

Occupation: Journalist

Location at time of fire: Passenger decks, sleeping cabins

Died in wreck



Birger Brinck was a journalist for the Stockholm Tidningen. Though he normally wrote aviation articles, Brinck was on his way to the United States to interview the governor of Pennsylvania for the tercentennial anniversary of the first landing of the Swedes in America. It was to be a very short visit: Brinck was to land with the
Hindenburg at Lakehurst on the morning of May 6th, immediately hop onboard a chartered plane to Harrisburg, PA, interview Governor George Earle, then fly back to Lakehurst in time to board the Hindenburg again for its midnight takeoff.

During the flight to Lakehurst, Brinck kept company with prominent industrialist and fellow Swede Rolf von Heidenstam and retired Danish businessman Hans Vinholt, as well as various other passengers. By the time the Hindenburg finally came in to land at Lakehurst, it was delayed by headwinds and storms and was almost 12 hours behind schedule. Brinck was concerned that he wouldn't be able to make it over to Harrisburg and back to Lakehurst in time to make the return voyage that night. The other passengers graciously offered to let him be the first to go through Customs.

Meanwhile, Einar Thulin, New York correspondent for the Tidningen, was waiting at Lakehurst for Brinck to arrive. He had arranged for Brinck's flight to Harrisburg, and the plane was waiting in one of the heavier-than-air hangars next to Lakehurst's immense Hangar One. As the Hindenburg arrived over the airfield for the second time that day, the chartered plane was brought out onto the runway and was warming up as Thulin piled into a car with Dr. Amandus Johnson, head of the American-Swedish Historical Museum in Philadelphia, and "Duke" Krantz, chief pilot for the New York Daily News and a native of Sweden who wished to meet Brinck. As the car carried the three men across the wet, sandy field toward the mooring circle, the Hindenburg hovered almost motionless approximately 700 feet from the mast, dropping its bow lines to the waiting ground crew.


Birger Brinck's possible location near the passenger cabins on B deck at the time of the fire.


Minutes later, the Hindenburg caught fire and burned. Birger Brinck had just left the starboard lounge and gone back to his cabin, probably one of the new ones down on the starboard side of B deck, and he never made it out of the ship alive. In the confusion that followed the disaster, Einar Thulin searched all over the airfield for Brinck. It was a doubly difficult task, because in addition to the chaos of hundreds of people swarming the airfield and the naval station buildings, Thulin only knew Brinck from his photograph. Finally, Thulin went to the base's Western Union station to wire the details of the story back to the Tidningen, adding a postscript: "Shall I stay on story or find Brinck?" The answer was not long in coming: "Find Brinck."

Having exhaustively searched the airfield, including the infirmary and all other areas where survivors were gathering, Thulin decided to drive to the nearest hospital and look there. He headed for Paul Kimball Hospital in Lakewood, which was by now flooded with casualties from the crash. In one corridor, Thulin saw a man sitting down, his face stained with smoke and grime.

"Are you Birger Brinck?" Thulin asked him.

"Why no," the man replied. "Don't you recognize me?"

Thulin did recognize him. It was Rolf von Heidenstam, the only other Swede who had been aboard the flight. "What happened to Brinck?" Thulin asked.

Von Heidenstam replied "He and I were talking as the ship came in. We were looking out of the main lounge window, and Brinck said, 'That's a nice shot for me.' Then he went back to his cabin to get his camera." It was the last von Heidenstam saw of Brinck before the fire.

Birger Brinck was among the last to be identified of those killed in the fire. His body was shipped back to Sweden aboard the Drottningholm on May 15th, 1937.

Birger Brinck poses beneath the hull of the Hindenburg prior to the final flight. Newspaper clipping was saved by fellow passenger Hans Vinholt of Copenhagen.


No comments: