Friday, February 20, 2009

Alfred Stöckle

Crew Member

Age: 25

Hometown: Friedrichshafen, Germany

Occupation: Engine mechanic

Location at time of fire: Keel stairs leading to bow

Died, either in wreck or in infirmary

Alfred Stöckle was one of the Hindenburg's engine mechanics. Born in Bremen on March 15, 1912, Stöckle moved with his family to Friedrichshafen when he was a child. His father was a foreman at Maybach Motorenbau, where Stöckle eventually served his apprenticeship as a mechanic. On September 1st, 1936, Stöckle was hired by the Deutsche Zeppelin Reederei to serve as an engine mechanic aboard the Hindenburg.

Stöckle was aboard the Hindenburg’s first North American flight of 1937, and was assigned to engine car #2, portside aft, along with August Deutschle and Adolf Fischer. Stöckle's last watch of the flight was from 4:00 to 6:00 on the afternoon of May 6th, and he was relieved by Deutschle.

As the Hindenburg came in to land at Lakehurst on the evening of May 6th, 1937, Stöckle was off-watch and in the crew’s mess. Just before the ship dropped its landing ropes, the captain sent word back to the crew's mess that six men were to go forward to the bow to help bring the tail-heavy ship into trim. Stöckle walked toward the bow with five others (fellow engine mechanic Walter Banholzer, electrician Josef Leibrecht, cooks Alfred Grözinger and Richard Müller, and assistant cook Fritz Flackus), and took a position somewhere along the stairway leading up from the keel to the mooring shelf.

Alfred Stöckle's approximate location at the time of the fire.
(Hindenburg structural diagram courtesy of David Fowler)


When the Hindenburg caught fire a few minutes later, Stöckle and most of the others in the bow section suddenly found themselves engulfed in fire and at least 150 feet above the ground, unable to jump to safety. Most of them jumped anyway, in a desperate attempt to escape the flames. Stöckle appears to have done the same, and was likely either knocked unconscious or died on impact, and was buried under the airship's framework when it crashed to earth several seconds later.

A crew member, possibly Alfred Stöckle, drops to the ground from
just aft of the Hindenburg's bow as the hull settles to earth.

Sailors prepare to lift a body, somewhere near the wreckage of the Hindenburg's bow (as indicated by the railroad track in the background at right.) The man on the ground appears to be wearing a grey mechanic's coverall, which would strongly suggest that this is Alfred Stöckle.

Along with all but three of the 12 men stationed in the bow at the time of the fire, Alfred Stöckle died as a result of his injuries. His body was returned to Germany, and he is buried in Friedrichshafen.


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

1 comment:

Unknown said...

This was my great uncle.