Max Pruss was the captain of the Hindenburg when it crashed at Lakehurst, New Jersey on May 6, 1937.
Pruss (or Pruß in German) was born on September 29th, 1891 in Sgonn in the district of Sensburg, East Prussia (which is now the city of Zgon, Poland) to Friedrich Pruss, a factory worker, and Luise Pruss, née Kaminski. In 1898 the Pruss family moved to Bielefeld.
In 1907 Pruss joined the “Schiffsjungen-Division” of the German Navy based at Kiel. During his time there, he learned about the zeppeling program, and zeppelins designed for combat. He trained on the ship “Preussen” in the Navigation and Signals Service and received his helmsman’s certificate (Steuermannspatent) in 1914.
Pruss joined the German naval airship service during WWI and made his first flight as an enlisted trainee/observer aboard the Navy Zeppelin L3 in 1914. He flew as a petty officer on the non-rigid Parseval ship PL-6 (formerly an advertising airship for Stollwerck, a chocolate company based in Köln), on which he served in the Baltic for approximately three months. He then trained as a member of the crew of Leutnant (later Überleutnant and Kapitänleutnant) Horst von Buttlar-Brandenfels and served as an elevatorman on the World War I Zeppelin L6. Pruss remained part of that same crew aboard L11, L30, L25, and L54. He served on the Germany Navy zeppelins L6 (LZ-31), L11 (LZ-41), L25 (LZ-58), L30 (LZ-62), and L54 (LZ-99), mostly as an elevatorman, the most challenging and demanding position.
Commercial Airflight ServiceEdit
Pruss was elevatorman on LZ-126 under the command of Hugo Eckener during the ship’s transatlantic delivery flight from Germany to America to become the U.S. Navy airship USS Los Angeles. Pruss then worked with Eckener and fellow zeppelin officers Hans von Schiller, Hans Flemming, and Anton Wittemann giving lectures around Germany to raise money for the Zeppelin-Eckener-Spende and the construction of LZ-127 Graf Zeppelin.
Pruss served aboard Graf Zeppelin during many important flights, including the ship’s historic 1929 Round-the-World flight, and was given command of Graf Zeppelin in 1934. He served as a watch officer aboard Hindenburg during many flights of the 1936 season — along with fellow watch officers Albert Sammt, Heinrich Bauer, and Knut Eckener — under the command of both Hugo Eckener and Ernst Lehmann.
Captain Pruss aboard HindenburgEditPruss himself eventually received command of Hindenburg, and he was the ship’s captain on the transatlantic flight from Lakehurst to Frankfurt on September 30 – October 3, 1936, and during Hindenburg’s last three South American crossings of the 1936 season.
Max Pruss was in command of Hindenburg when it was destroyed by fire at Lakehurst, New Jersey on May 6, 1937. He survived the crash, but suffered very serious burns on much of his body, including his face, and remained in a New York hospital for many months. Despite numerous operations to repair the burn damage he had suffered, Pruss remained badly scarred for the rest of his life.
To the end of his life, Pruss believed the Hindenburg disaster was the result of sabotage. In a 1960 interview, he dismissed the possibility that an electrical discharge could have caused the accident, arguing that zeppelins had passed through thunderstorms and even lightning many times without incident.