I Survived: The Hindenburg Disaster, 1937

Chapter 2

THREE DAYS EARLIER

MONDAY, MAY 3

7:00 P.M.

RHEIN-MAIN AIRFIELD

FRANKFURT, GERMANY

Hugo held his four-year-old sister, Gertie, tightly in his arms. They were standing in the airport waiting room. Within the hour, they’d be flying to America on the Hindenburg. Now they just had to have their bags inspected by the mean-looking German guards.

“No matches or lighters will be permitted on the Hindenburg!” a soldier barked out in English and German.

The guards talked in a way that made every word sound like a curse.

“Why are they so worried about matches?” Mom asked nervously.

Mom wasn’t the jittery type—she’d shoo a deadly snake from their kitchen as if it were a ladybug. But none of them had ever flown before. And the idea of rising more than six hundred feet into the sky and then flying across the Atlantic Ocean was making her nervous.

Dad gave Mom a pat on the arm. “It’s just because the Hindenburg is powered by hydrogen gas. It’s very flammable.”

“Please don’t remind me,” Mom said, looking queasy.

Dad put an arm around Mom’s shoulders and pulled her close.

“You don’t have to worry,” he said. “The Germans have a perfect safety record with their zeppelins. Right, Hugo?”

He shot Hugo a look that said, I need some help here.

“It’s true, Mom,” Hugo chimed in. He’d learned all he could about the Hindenburg and its sister ship, the Graf Zeppelin. Now he tried to remember some of the amazing facts he’d read.

“The Hindenburg made thirty-four trips across the Atlantic last year,” he said, using his most expert voice. “And the Graf Zeppelin has flown more than a million miles without one problem. Really, Mom. The Hindenburg is the safest way to travel.”

Mom perked up a little bit.

“That’s good,” she said. “But I’d still rather be on a nice big ship.”

“Like the Titanic?” Dad said, raising an eyebrow.

Who could forget the celebrated ocean liner that had hit an iceberg and sunk twenty-five years ago?

Mom frowned, but Dad had made a good point. Thousands of people had died in shipwrecks over the years. And not one person had been killed on a German passenger airship.

Of course, there had been some grisly accidents on military airships over the years—fiery explosions and deadly crashes. The most terrible was the disaster of a U.S. Navy airship that had happened just a few years ago. The Akron had been flying off the coast of New Jersey when it was swept into a violent thunderstorm. It crashed into the ocean and more than seventy men were killed.

But German airships, known as zeppelins, were different. They were famous for their safety. German pilots were the very best in the world. Hugo really didn’t have the slightest worry about the Hindenburg.

What he was worried about, as usual, was his little sister.

Gertie wasn’t feeling so well today. And now she was all teary over their dog, Panya. It turned out dogs weren’t allowed in the passenger areas of the Hindenburg. A few minutes ago, a member of the zeppelin’s crew had come to take their little mutt away. Panya would spend the voyage in the Hindenburg’s cargo hold.

Hugo didn’t know who howled louder when Panya was carried off — the dog or Gertie.

Gertie looked at Hugo.

“I miss Panya,” she said, her lip trembling.

“I have an idea,” Hugo said, straightening one of Gertie’s curly pigtails. “Let’s go look at the zeppelin.”

If anything could get Gertie’s mind off Panya, it was the Hindenburg.