Thursday, December 4, 2008

Franz Eichelmann

Crew member

Age: 26

Hometown: Frankfurt

Occupation: Radio operator

Location at time of fire: B-deck, foyer to crew's mess

Died in wreck

Franz Eichelmann, born April 28, 1911, was one of four radio operators aboard the Hindenburg on its last flight, the others being Herbert Dowe, Egon Schweikard, and Chief Radio Officer Willy Speck. Eichelmann had served his apprenticeship with Siemens and Halske, a communications engineering firm in Charlottenburg. He then studied at the wireless operators' school in Berlin before serving as a radio operator with various shipping lines. In July of 1936, Eichelmann was hired by the Deutsche Zeppelin Reederei and served aboard the LZ 129 Hindenburg, again as a radio operator.

Franz Eichelmann was aboard the Hindenburg's first North American flight of 1937, which began on the evening of May 3rd. His last watch had been from 8:00 AM until noon on the morning of May 6th, and as the Hindenburg came in to land at Lakehurst that evening just after 7:00 Eichelmann, who was by that time on standby watch, was in the crew's mess. At the signal for landing stations, he took a position near the telephone in the foyer between the mess room and the kitchen, and at approximately 7:20 PM he received a call from the control car ordering that six men be sent from the crew's mess to the bow to help trim the ship. Eichelmann relayed the order to the off-watch men sitting in the mess, and six of them headed forward.

The telephone extension in the kitchen foyer where Franz Eichelmann took the call to send the six men forward to the bow. View is from the crew's mess looking more or less forward into the kitchen. Steward Wilhelm Balla stands in the background. (photo courtesy of the Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmBH Archive)

Franz Eichelmann's location at the time of the fire.

When the ship caught fire a few minutes later, Eichelmann was apparently the first one in the mess area to realize what had happened and cook Albert Stöffler later remembered him calling out that there was a fire and to get out of the ship. Nobody saw Franz Eichelmann after that, and he doesn't appear to have ever made it out of the ship alive. His body was returned to Germany and buried in Frankfurt at the Frankfurter Hauptfriedhof cemetery, in a common grave along with six other Frankfurt-area crewmen who died at Lakehurst.

Franz Eichelmann's name inscribed on crew memorial in Frankfurter Hauptfriedhof cemetery.

Thanks 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 Eichelmann's career, and to Dr. Cheryl Ganz for providing me with a copy of the article.

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