ON the evening of Friday, May 22, 1936, eight-year-old Joyce Oxley was playing out in the street at Holmfield, Sutton-in-Craven.

It was warm for the time of year and there was a clear blue sky.

Her play was suddenly interrupted by the extraordinary sight of a huge airship drifting above the Aire Valley and travelling in the direction of Keighley.

Her shouts brought her two aunts and their neighbours out into the street to catch a glimpse of it before it disappeared out of sight.

Along the side, towards the front of the airship, in large red Gothic script was the word HINDENBURG and on the tail at the other end were emblazoned two large swastikas. It was 804 feet long, making it over three times the length of a Boeing 747, and was the largest aircraft the world has ever seen.

Built in Germany by the Zeppelin Company to carry passengers, it was new to the skies, and had made its maiden voyage only a few weeks previously.

It was on its way back to Germany from New Jersey and had made an unscheduled detour over Belfast, Barrow in Furness, and Skipton to Keighley.

Travelling on board was a German priest, Father Paul Schultz, who together with his brother Franz Schultz had been a fighter pilot during the First World War.

His brother had been shot down and captured and subsequently interred in the prisoner of war camp at Raikeswood in Skipton.

When the Spanish flu pandemic struck, he and many other prisoners contracted the virus and were transferred to Morton Banks Fever Hospital, near Keighley.

Franz Schultz and some 40 other German soldiers died and were buried at Morton Banks Cemetery.

Father Schultz had arranged for the unscheduled detour and as the airship passed low over Keighley a small package was dropped from it and landed in the street.

It was picked up by two boys who opened it and found a spray of carnations, a small silver cross, a photograph of a flying boat, some Hindenburg souvenir stamps and a letter. The letter requested the finder to “please deposit these flowers on the cross on the grave of my dear brother, Lieutenant Franz Schultz, 1 Garde Regiment, prisoner of war”.

The flowers were taken to the grave that night and the other items and letter were passed to Major Clarkson, the town clerk. The following day the editor of the Yorkshire Observer sent a message to Father Schultz to say that the flowers had been laid on the grave.

The small silver cross, which had been sent to Father Schultz by the Pope, was given to Monsignor Russell who placed it on the altar at St Anne’s Church in Keighley.

The Hindenburg had taken 44 hours 25 minutes to travel from New Jersey to Frankfurt, breaking all records for a trans-Atlantic crossing despite its unorthodox detour over Keighley.

The airship continued to make flights to America until May 6, 1937, when it suddenly burst into flames as it was docking in New Jersey.

Filled with highly inflammable hydrogen, fire was always a serious risk to airships.

Of the 97 people on board - 36 passengers and 61 crew - 35 were killed, together with one member of the ground crew.

A passenger, Joseph Spah, a vaudeville comic acrobat, made a spectacular escape. He had been filming the landing and on hearing the explosion smashed one of the windows with his camera, climbed out and hung onto the window ledge until the craft was about 20 feet above the ground. He then successfully accomplished an acrobatic safety roll and despite breaking an ankle landed safely.