Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Hometown: Sprendlingen, Germany
Location at time of fire: Electrical center - switch room
Died in wreck
Ernst Schlapp, born in Sprendlingen on May 4th, 1900, was one of three electricians who flew on the Hindenburg, the others being Josef Leibrecht and Chief Electrician Philipp Lenz. Schlapp had originally been hired by the Deutsche Zeppelin Reederei on October 2nd, 1935, and was assigned to serve as one of the electricians aboard the LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin. When the LZ 129 Hindenburg went into service in March of 1936, Schlapp transferred over to the new ship, and flew on virtually every flight throughout 1936.
Schlapp was also aboard the Hindenburg on its first 1937 flight to the United States, which began on May 3rd. On the second day of the flight (Tuesday, May 4th), he celebrated his 37th birthday.
Ernst Schlapp was on standby watch at the time of the fire, and as such he was with Chief Lenz in the switch room in the amidships power station, just aft of the generator room. Schlapp and Chief Lenz had inspected everything in the room, all was in order, and they were free to watch the landing operations from the windows in the floor of the room. Suddenly, they heard a dull explosion and saw the reflection of fire on the ground outside the windows. As the ship began tilting down by the stern, Schlapp immediately ran out the door of the switch room to the keel walkway. This likely cost him his life, as the power station was located in the portion of the ship's frame which telescoped in upon itself as the bow pointed skyward. While Chief Lenz, who remained behind in the switch room, was protected by the insulating properties of the sealed power station, Schlapp was most likely trapped among the collapsing girders, wires, and fuel tanks which lined the keel walkway.
Ernst Schlapp died, either on the field or in the infirmary shortly after the fire. His body was returned to Germany and buried at the Frankfurter Hauptfriedhof cemetery in a common grave along with six other Frankfurt-area crew members who were killed at Lakehurst. His name, along with those of the others, is inscribed on a monument over the grave site.
Thanks also to Herr Manfred Sauter of the Freundeskreis zur Förderung des Zeppelin Museums e.V., whose memorial article on the Hindenburg crew members who lost their lives at Lakehurst (Zeppelin Brief, No. 59, June 2011) provided additional details on Schlapp's career, and to Dr. Cheryl Ganz for providing me with a copy of the article.