Europe’s first female flight attendant

Most people would never have heard of Nelly Diener. She was the first female flight attendant to work in Europe, a true character, well ahead of her time, who unfortunately died doing what she loved. This is her story.
Nelly Hedwig Diener worked for Swissair Schweizensche Luftverkehr-AG. They were an innovative airline at the time, ahead of the rest of Europe. The business owners had heard of the American concept of having a ‘stewardess’ onboard and decided to follow suit. Ellen Church introduced this role in the US and was the first female flight attendant in the world, a concept that was announced in the local newspapers. It was a time when flying was relatively new and dangerous, and the flight attendant would be there for reassurance.
Nelly was hired as a flight attendant on May 1st, 1934, and was just 22 years old. She flew on Swissair’s first flights from Zurich to Berlin. She worked on the Curtiss-Wright AT32-C Condor II, an aircraft that was mostly wooden and built specifically for Swissair. It was a twin-engine bi-plane with 15 seats, painted blue with orange detailing. She worked on a lot of short-hop flights in Switzerland and Germany.
Nelly was something of a character and well-known for her cheerful nature. She was very popular, and everyone liked her. She was sincere and modest, yet ‘sassy.’ It was said that she scared away the fear of flying from her sensitive passengers. She was nicknamed the ‘Engel der Lufte’ or ‘Angel of the Skies.’ Nelly was a fresh, unconventional woman in aviation, well ahead of her time. She loved her job and her Azure-colored uniform.
On July 27th, 1934, her 79th flight was to be her last. Europe’s first female flight attendant had been flying just a few months. The flight, using an aircraft with identification CH170, was from Zurich Dubendorf Airport via Stuttgart Echterdingen Airport before going on to Berlin. The pilot was Armin Muhtematter, and the radio navigator was Hans Daschinger. There were nine passengers onboard.
The aircraft was flying at 3,000 feet when a thunderstorm hit. The right wing structure failed, and the wing separated from the aircraft. The aircraft crashed into a forest between Wurmlingen and Tuttlingen and exploded into flames on impact. All twelve souls onboard were killed in the accident. The fracture in the engine mount and the right wing was the main cause of the accident. It is thought that construction and welding were defective. A second fracture was caused by the bad weather.