Saturday, October 18, 2008

Raphael Schädler

Crew Member

Age: Unknown

Hometown: Neu Isenburg, Germany

Occupation: Engineering officer

Location at time of fire: Engine gondola #4, portside forward


Raphael Schädler was one of the
Hindenburg's engineering officers, along with Eugen Schauble and Wilhelm Dimmler, and was directly subordinate to Chief Engineer Rudolf Sauter. Schädler had been flying on Zeppelins as a mechanic since the LZ-127 Graf Zeppelin's first flights in 1928, and was aboard for the Graf's round-the-world flight in 1929. Since the Hindenburg's maiden flight in 1936, Schädler had made every trip.

Raphael Schädler (center) along with his fellow Hindenburg engineering officers - Wilhelm Dimmler (left) and Eugen Schäuble (right). Photo circa 1930, when the three were engine mechanics on the Graf Zeppelin.
(photo courtesy of the Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmBH Archive)

Schädler was therefore aboard the Hindenburg on her first North American flight of 1937 in his usual capacity as engineering officer. The flight proved uneventful, and he was on standby watch at the time the ship approached Lakehurst. When the signal for landing stations sounded shortly after 7:00 PM, Schädler made his way to engine car #4, which was the forward engine on the port side of the ship. Chief Mechanic Eugen Bentele was already there, supervising a new trainee from Daimler-Benz named Theodor Ritter. Schädler was running a little late when the landing station signal sounded, so he had gone straight for the nearest engine car, which happened to be #4, and which was already idling when he arrived at his station. On his last four-hour watch, which had ended at noon, he had inspected all four engine cars and determined that everything was in order and running in a completely normal fashion. Similarly, he didn't notice anything unusual about the landing maneuver itself. As the Hindenburg approached the mooring circle, the engine telegraph in car #4 transmitted an order to set the engine to "full astern" briefly, then back to "idle astern".

Schädler in engine car #4, view looking aft through propeller. Photo from an earlier flight. (photo courtesy of the Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmBH Archive)

Raphael Schädler's position at the time of the fire (diagram is top view of the ship.)

What happened next was a blur to Schädler. He suddenly looked out the back of the gondola and saw that the ship was on fire, and then felt the ship begin to drop to the ground. He remembered being rather far forward in the engine gondola near the side window, but never remembered jumping. He suddenly found himself lying on the ground outside the gondola feeling as though his chest had been crushed, and was having trouble breathing. Navigator Eduard Boetius found Schädler lying there, helped him up and found some members of the ground crew to take Schädler to a truck bound for the air station's infirmary.

Schädler, smoking a cigarette, being carried to a
truck after his escape from the wreck.

Once at the infirmary, Schädler's name was written down and eventually placed among the survivors on the blackboard in the press room in the large Zeppelin hangar. He appeared on some of the earliest survivor lists sent out on the news wires, often with his name misspelled almost beyond recognition - in many newspapers, for example, he was listed as "Ray Fields Stahler."

Raphael Schädler was taken to Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, where he spent some weeks recovering from his injuries. He was interviewed in his hospital bed by investigators from the US Commerce Department's Board of Inquiry on May 25th, 1937. He subsequently returned to Germany, and the next year flew as part of the crew on the maiden flight of the LZ-130 Graf Zeppelin. He survived the war and lived out his life in Frankfurt.

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