Thursday, February 12, 2009

August Deutschle

Crew Member

Age: 28

Hometown: unknown

Occupation: Engine mechanic

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


August Deutschle was one of the Hindenburg's engine mechanics. He had joined the Hindenburg's crew in March of 1936, just in time to participate in the ship's maiden flight on March 4th, and subsequently flew on every flight throughout 1936 and early 1937.

August Deutschle in engine gondola #2. View is aft, looking through the propeller. (photo courtesy of the Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmBH Archive)

On the Hindenburg's first North American flight of the 1937 season Deutschle, along with fellow mechanics Adolf Fischer and Alfred Stöckle, was stationed in engine gondola #2, the engine furthest aft on the portside of the ship. On the last evening of the flight, May 6th, Deutschle had gone on duty in the engine car at 6:00 P.M., relieving Stöckle. The ship approached the landing field at Lakehurst, NJ about an hour later and when the signal for landing stations was sounded shortly after 7:00 Fischer joined him. At about 7:20, on orders from the control car, they had set the engine to "idle astern" in preparation for the final approach to the mooring mast. The order came through to rev the engine to "full astern" to bring the ship to a stop, which Deutschle and Fischer did. After about 30 seconds or so the engine telegraph showed "idle astern" again, and the mechanics throttled the engine back. Another half a minute or so passed, and another order for "full astern" came through from the control car. Once again the two mechanics ran the engine up to full speed for 25-30 seconds until the engine telegraph showed once more "idle astern." Deutschle then looked out the window of the gondola, watching the landing crew take up the landing lines, when he noticed that the nose seemed a bit high and the ship wasn't descending as fast it normally would. He attributed this to the fact that they were making a high landing as opposed to the usual German-style low landing.

August Deutschle's location at the time of the fire. (Diagram is top view of airship.)

Deutschle turned and glanced back through the opening at the rear of the engine gondola, and through the propeller he suddenly saw a yellowish-red flame several meters wide shooting laterally out of the ship's hull above the equator of the ship, and he simultaneously heard a detonation. Deutschle instinctively grabbed the engine's throttle and shut the engine down, but the ship began to fall he was unable to grab hold of the engine brake. As the stern of the ship dropped, and the engine car tilted aft, Deutschle tried to grab hold of a stanchion to brace himself, but the gondola was shaking so violently that he was unable to do so, and he just grabbed whatever he could to avoid sliding out into the propeller, which was still rotating when the gondola hit the ground.

Once the engine car was on the ground, Deutschle looked around quickly and noticed that there was no fire yet in the gondola, though there was a lot of hissing and cracking. He went to the side window and shouted "Raus!" as grey smoke began to fill the gondola. Deutschle climbed out of the gondola window and began to run from the ship. He was immediately aware of the extreme heat radiating from the fire. He felt like the back of his coverall was on fire, and threw himself to the ground and rolled around to try and put the fire out. It did no good, however. He was still too close to the fire and the heat was too great. Deutschle tried to stand up and run, but he couldn't. He therefore crawled as far as he could from the fire, finally stopping near the rails that led to the mooring circle. One of his hands had been burned and was beginning to hurt badly, so he stuck it into the wet sand to try and cool it off.

August Deutschle (arrow) has just climbed out of engine gondola #2 and is beginning to run from the wreck.

Deutschle then rolled over onto his back and, for the first time, saw what was left of the ship, with thick columns of black smoke rising into the air from the burning fuel oil. He suddenly saw Fischer running past him towards the wreckage. He called out to Fischer, "Where are you going?" Fischer stopped and turned around and came back over to Deutschle, saying "I thought you were still in there." Fischer then got help from some nearby sailors, and Deutschle was put onto a small truck and taken away to the infirmary.

August Deutschle being loaded into an ambulance for transfer to Fitkin Memorial Hospital in New York City, on or about May 8th, 1937.

Deutschle was injured badly enough to spend several weeks in the hospital, having initially been taken to Paul Kimball Hospital in nearby Lakewood, NJ., then transferred over the weekend to Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. He gave his testimony to the US Commerce Department's Board of Inquiry from his hospital bed on May 25th, 1937. He returned home to Germany via steamship once he'd recuperated. Slightly more than a year later, on September 12, 1938, August Deutschle flew on the maiden flight of the Hindenburg’s new sister ship, the LZ-130 Graf Zeppelin. Once again, Deutschle served as an engine mechanic, this time in the #4 engine, portside forward.

August Deutschle later retired in Stuttgart.


Unknown said...

so cool

Anonymous said...

Amazing. Gary Deutschle