Thursday, February 12, 2009

Adolf Fischer

Crew Member

Age: 31

Hometown: Esslingen am Neckar, Germany

Occupation: engine mechanic

Location at time of fire: Engine gondola #2, portside aft


Adolf Fischer was born on August 6th, 1905 in Esslingen am Neckar, near Stuttgart. After leaving school he went to work for the Daimler-Benz factory in nearby Untertürkheim. He was eventually assigned to the development team for the LOF-6 diesel engines, which were being constructed for the new airship, the LZ129 – later to be christened Hindenburg. Once he'd helped to install the engines on the airship, he was hired by Deutsche Zeppelin Reederei and joined the crew of the Hindenburg. He flew on the ship’s maiden voyage on March 4, 1936, assigned to engine car #4, along with Rafael Schädler and Walter Banholzer. He subsequently flew for the rest of the 1936 season, as well as the earlier flights in 1937.

Adolf Fischer in one of the engine gondolas of the LZ-130 Graf Zeppelin, which made its first flights the year after the Hindenburg fire.
(photo courtesy of the Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmBH Archive)

Fischer was aboard the Hindenburg for its first North American flight of 1937, assigned to engine car #2 along with August Deutschle and Alfred Stöckle. On the evening of May 6th, the Hindenburg approached its landing field at Lakehurst, NJ. Fischer had been on standby watch when the signal for landing stations sounded shortly after 7:00 P.M., and he joined Deutschle in their engine car shortly thereafter, with Deutschle manning the engine throttle, and Fischer keeping watch over the engine telegraph. He and Deutschle carried out an order telegraphed from the control car a few minutes later and brought their engine to "idle astern" in preparation for final positioning of the ship for mooring. Over the next few minutes, they twice received orders to set the engine to "full astern" so as to bring the ship to a halt, and then were ordered to return the engine to idle astern.

Suddenly, Fischer heard "a dull thud." Standing next to the entrance to the engine car, Fischer looked out the doorway at the hull of the ship and saw yellowish flames. No sooner had he seen the fire when the ship began to fall and Fischer was forced to find the nearest handhold. Both men hung on as the stern of the ship dropped quickly to the ground. As their engine gondola landed heavily, Fischer was struck on the head and stunned. He lay there momentarily in the gondola until water from an engine coolant tank in the hull above poured into the engine car and revived him enough that he was able to climb out of the gondola. Then he sat down dazedly in the sand near the wreck, unaware that his clothes were burning, until the heat snapped him out of it again. He patted out the fire on his coverall and ran from the wreck until he couldn't feel the heat anymore.

Fischer gradually began to come back to his senses, turned around, and saw the engine gondola lying on the ground next to the wreck, burning. He suddenly thought of Deutschle and ran back to the engine car to try and find him. Before he got there, he heard Deutschle's voice call out behind him, "Where are you going?" Fischer turned around and saw Deutschle lying on his back some distance from the wreckage. "I thought you were still in there," Fischer replied as he walked over to help his comrade. Seeing that Deutschle was injured, Fischer called to some nearby sailors and together they carried Deutschle to a truck and took him to the infirmary.

Fischer suffered some rather serious injuries himself, and was taken to Paul Kimball Hospital in nearby Lakewood with burns to his head and body, as well as concussion. His sister, Amalie Reich, lived in Maplewood, NJ, where she had worked for a number of years as a maid. She heard about the disaster on the radio and immediately rushed to Lakewood to be at her brother's side. Fischer was so heavily bandaged when she arrived that Ms. Reich was initially only able to recognize him by the wristwatch he wore. She was immediately asked by hospital staff to act as an interpreter, since many of the German survivors spoke no English.

Adolf Fischer and his sister, Amalie Reich, during one of the Hindenburg's visits to Lakehurst in 1936.

Fischer was held at Paul Kimball Hospital for three days until he was in good enough shape to be transferred to Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. He spent 4 weeks in the hospital recovering from his injuries, and testified to the US Commerce Department's Board of Inquiry from his hospital room on May 25th, about 2 ½ weeks after the disaster.

Adolf Fischer, with nurse Martha Zimmer, just prior to Fischer being transferred to Fitkin Memorial Hospital in Neptune, NJ on May 9th, 1937.

After his return to Germany, Fischer was an engine mechanic on the LZ-130 Graf Zeppelin from October 1938 to August 1939 (this despite the fact that he still bore scars from the injuries he sustained at Lakehurst) and served throughout World War II as an aviation mechanic.

Over the course of his career as a Zeppelin mechanic, Fischer flew on 15 round-trip flights to South America and 11 to North America, and in addition to this he also flew on numerous shorter flights within Germany. All in all, he flew roughly 470,000 kilometers by airship.

In his later years, Adolf Fischer worked as a tour guide at the museum in Zeppelinheim, near Frankfurt.

No comments: