Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Albert Stöffler

Crew Member

Age: 25

Hometown: Friedrichshafen, Germany

Occupation: pastry chef

Location at time of fire: Crew's mess


Albert Stöffler was one of the Hindenburg's cooks, and his speciality was preparing pastries and other confections. Having flown one flight on the
Graf Zeppelin a year or two previously, Stöffler had been hired on March 1st, 1936 to serve onboard the Hindenburg, making all of her flights from the first test flight on March 4th, 1936 onward.

Albert Stöffler in the Hindenburg's electric kitchen.
(photo courtesy of the Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmBH Archive)

Stöffler was aboard the Hindenburg on its first North American flight of 1937, and as the ship came in to land at Lakehurst on the evening of May 6th, he was in the kitchen down on B-deck. He heard the signal for landing stations shortly after 7:00 PM, and about 15 or 20 minutes later he heard radio officer Franz Eichelmann (who was manning the telephone in the kitchen foyer) relaying an order to the men in the crew's mess from the control car: "Six men forward." The ship was tail heavy, and the commander wanted the men to go to the ship's bow to help balance it out.

Since this effectively emptied out the crew's mess, Stöffler walked aft to the mess room so that somebody would be there. He found a bench near the windows cut into the floor, and laid down to watch the landing operations on the ground below. Stöffler saw the two landing ropes dropped from the bow, and saw the landing crew connect the port rope up to the mooring tackle near the mast. He noticed that the port rope was tightening as the ship drifted to starboard.

Albert Stöffler's location at the time of the fire.

Suddenly, Stöffler felt a strong vibration run through the ship and initially thought the ship's bow was being connected up to the mooring mast. As he stood up, Eichelmann ran into the crew's mess and called to him "Come out! Come out!" Stöffler followed his colleague out into the keel hallway, but lost track of him almost immediately. With the ship tilting steeply aft, Stöffler went back into the crew's mess. He noticed that hot water from the kitchen had spilled all over the floor, and sat up on one of the tables so that his feet wouldn't be scalded. From here he turned and looked out of one of the observation windows in the floor and saw on the ground below him the reddish glare of the fire. When the ship neared the ground, Stöffler knew it was time to get out. He jumped through the nearest window from a height of several meters, picked himself up and ran, with the ship's burning frame crashing to the ground just behind him. He escaped almost completely unharmed.

One of the Hindenburg's cooks (arrow), either Xaver Maier or Albert Stöffler, just barely visible by his kitchen whites, runs to safety as the ship's hull collapses behind him.

Stöffler stayed in the United States long enough to testify before the US Commerce Department's Board of Inquiry on May 13th, a week after the disaster. He then sailed for Germany on May 15th, along with the rest of the surviving kitchen staff and stewards, aboard the steamship Europa. They docked in Bremerhaven a week later on May 22nd.

Albert Stöffler passed away in July of 1997 at the age of 85.

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