Monday, February 2, 2009

Hans Vinholt


Age: 64

Residence: Copenhagen, Denmark

Occupation: Retired businessman

Location at time of fire: Passenger decks - portside dining saloon


Hans Karl Vinholt, born August 16th, 1872 in Randers, Denmark, was a retired businessman who lived in Copenhagen. He had a son, Karl, who also lived in Copenhagen. He is usually listed on Hindenburg passenger lists as a retired banker, though customs records from an earlier sailing voyage to the United States (aboard the steamship Empress of Britain), in June of 1935, list him as a manufacturer and similar records from a later flight to the States (aboard the Pan Am flying boat Dixie Clipper), in August of 1939, indicate that he was a "mechanican."

Vinholt sailed on the Hindenburg's last flight, planning to visit friends in New York. During the flight, Vinholt struck up friendships with a number of his fellow passengers, including Swedish newspaper reporter Birger Brinck. Vinholt was struck by how relaxed and friendly the atmosphere among the passengers was.

Hans Vinholt's location in the portside dining room at the time of the fire.

As the Hindenburg approached the air station at Lakehurst, NJ at the end of the flight, Vinholt was at the aft end of the portside dining salon watching the ground crew take up the ship's landing ropes. Suddenly, he and the other passengers felt a shudder run through the ship. The ship began to tilt down by the stern, and as the passengers began to panic Vinholt heard a sound that disturbed him far more deeply: the growing roar of fire burning its way closer to the passenger decks. As the tail of the ship hit the ground far below, Vinholt was thrown to the floor. As he struggled to climb to his feet, Vinholt noticed about ten other passengers nearby trying frantically to find a way out as flames burnt their way through into the dining room. Vinholt's jacket began to burn, and the flames quickly singed off most of his hair.

Vinholt finally made his way to a nearby observation window and decided to jump. He later told reporters, "A woman who was panicking from hysteria tried to go through the same window and for a few seconds we were both stuck there. I managed to get a grip on one of the red hot iron bars on the outside of the airship and that was how I was able to pull myself out. I hung outside for a few seconds before jumping to the ground."

The woman of which Vinholt spoke was probably Matilde Doehner, who was also in the rear part of the dining room and had just thrown her two sons out of the aft observation window before going to jump herself. Vinholt was about 15-20 feet above the ground when he jumped, landing in the sandy soil below. He tried to pick himself up to get away from the wreck, but was unable to do so. "I couldn't support myself on my legs, but fell on my hip and laid moaning and half unconscious when three men drew me away from the burning airship."

Hans Vinholt managed to escape the fire with burns to his hands, forearms, and the back of his head. He was taken to nearby Paul Kimball Hospital in Lakewood and transferred the next day to Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan. He returned to Denmark onboard the steamship Europa on May 16th, 1937, his head and arms still heavily bandaged.

Hans Vinholt being transferred from Paul Kimball Hospital in Lakewood, NJ to Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan on May 7th, 1937.

Hans Vinholt recovering from his injuries, May 1937. Note burns to his head and the protective sleeves over his injured forearms.

Hans Vinholt was later compensated 28,000 Danish kroner by the Zeppelin Company for the injuries he suffered in the fire. Once back home in Copenhagen, Vinholt began collecting newspaper clippings about the Hindenburg disaster, many of which were from Danish newspapers which included articles about his own escape. He also found and included a photo of his fellow passenger Birger Brinck whom, Vinholt learned from his doctors in New York, had been killed in the fire.

("The Airship Is Coming", a book published by the Danish Post and Tele Museum, provided a great deal of detail concerning Hans Vinholt's Hindenburg experiences. Though it is aimed at younger readers, the book provides some excellent information on Zeppelin history (particularly the development of the radio systems the airships used) as well as numerous rare photographs. The book can be purchased HERE in both Danish and English versions.)

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