This Day in History: 05/06/1937 - The Hindenburg disaster

This Day in History: 05/06/1937 - The Hindenburg disaster

In This Day in History video clip: On May 3, 1937, The airship Hindenburg, the largest dirigible ever built and the pride of Nazi Germany, bursts into flames upon touching its mooring mast in Lakehurst, New Jersey, killing 36 passengers and crewmembers. While attempting to moor at Lakehurst, the airship suddenly burst into flames, probably after a spark ignited its hydrogen core. Rapidly falling 200 feet to the ground, the hull of the airship incinerated within seconds.


Cause [ edit | edit source ]

The cause of the Hindenburg's fire was the ship's hydrogen gas that gave the ship its flotation. Something ignited the ship's hydrogen causing the ship to burn. However, the truth of the matter is the cause of the ignition is simply uncertain. Most of the ship's evidence was burned up. However, it was reported by lots of witnesses and the crew onboard that the Hindenburg was tail-heavy. This might have indicated a possible hydrogen leak. The mixes hydrogen with air, forming a dangerous combination. All it would take is a spark to ignite the hydrogen. The cause of the spark is heavily debated, though there are two theories that seem the most likely cause (see below). Despite whatever the reason, the disaster proved that hydrogen airships are inherently unsafe.

Ruled-Out Causes of Ignition [ edit | edit source ]

Electrical Failure [ edit | edit source ]

Many people at the time thought that the Hindenburg's hydrogen may have caught fire because of a mechanical failure of the airship. Mechanical failures could have included faulty wiring in the crew's quarters or passenger's quarters, like lighting. There also might have been damaged for the storm the airship passed through earlier, and the rain at Lakehurst. However, this cause was ruled out, as there was no report of any electrical failures on the airship. Everything seemed to be working fine.

Lightning Strike [ edit | edit source ]

Lightning was a probable cause for the disaster because there were rainstorms in the area. Some people assumed that lightning might have struck the back of the ship, creating enough electricity to blow up one of the hydrogen gasbags. This would have been a very likely cause, except for the fact that thousands of witnesses were there that day. Not one of them reported a lightning strike on the airship or saw any lightning in the skies. Also, there would have been a huge crack as the electricity hit, and the explosion would have been much bigger. In reality, the flames first appeared out of the back of the ship first, then followed by an explosive reaction. With lightning, there would be no flames, just a huge explosion.

Engine Fuel Leak [ edit | edit source ]

Many people believed that the airship's diesel fuel might have been leaking. It had been the other cause of many hydrogen airship fires and a few members of the crew thought they could smell something like gasoline. The theory is that the engine was malfunctioning, causing hot gas to leak out of the fuel tank into the airship. The hot fuel hit the hydrogen gas bag, setting it on fire and triggering the disaster. Another theory is that the fuel leak caused the engine to catch on fire first, then the fumes spread to hydrogen bag, igniting it. This seemed like a plausible explanation, but the thing that debunked this theory was that all the witnesses on the ground reported that the fire started around the top of the airship, nowhere near the engine or fuel tank. If either had caught fire, the fire would have started at the bottom of the airship. Even though it seemed plausible, this one theory was enough to find it not true.

Sabotage [ edit | edit source ]

Many people thought at the time that sabotage was the most likely explanation. In fact, the Hindenburg's captain, Max Pruss, Commander Rosendahl, the commander of the Lakehurst Naval Airbase, and some members of the Zeppelin company, all thought it was sabotage. Hugo Eckener mentioned the possibility of sabotage as the cause of the disaster, but in his opinion, there was not much evidence to support this theory. This was actually true as there wasn't any major proof that there was any sabotage.

The main reason the Hindenburg might have been a target for sabotage, was because it was being used as a symbol for Nazi propaganda because of the Swastika's painted on the tailfins. As the Nazi's were hated all over Europe, some people would have liked to see the airship destroyed.

There were a few threatening letters overtime that threatened the zeppelin would blow up. The Zeppelin company took threats very seriously. However, none of these sabotage plots were carried out because the saboteurs were caught and arrested. But, there was only one possible saboteur on board the Hindenburg that seemed like the best choice to blame in the 1930s: Joeseph Spah. 

Spah was a US acrobat who was traveling home on board the Hindenburg. He had brought a home video camera to film his journey. He also had brought a dog on board that he was going to give to his grandchildren as a present. He had permission to go into the crew-only cargo hold to feed him. This is where many investigators began to grow suspicious. Spah had access to the ship's hull and he was an acrobat. Being an acrobat, he could easily have climbed up the ship's metal framework to plant an explosive device, such as a time bomb or a grenade.

Spah was interrogated and charged with terrorism. Spah was asked about his background, the journey itself, and where he was before and during the disaster. However, Spah was found "not guilty" because of two reasons. First, Spah wouldn't go through all the trouble to plant a bomb in the top section of the back of the ship, because the crew would get suspicious. He could have easily planted a bomb in the gondola of the ship, and still have a deadly effect. However, the fire and the explosion would have come out the rear side of the ship, not the top in front of the tail. Second, Spah had absolutely no motive. He was not an anti-nazi, a soldier, or had any criminal record. According to the evidence on his video camera, he was just a normal passenger like any other. So, Spah was found innocent, and the police apologized for charging him.

However, in the 1960s another possible saboteur was found by author, A. A. Hoehling Eric Spehl. Spehl was a crew member and an airship rigger that died in the fire. However, when investigating his background, A.A Hoelhling found a possible motive Spehl was anti-Nazi. Hoehling had other theories to back his theory up:

  • Spehl's girlfriend had communist beliefs and anti-Nazi connections.
  • The fire's origin was near the catwalk running through Gas Cell 4, which was an area of the ship generally off-limits to anyone other than Spehl and his fellow riggers.
  • Hoehling's claim that Chief Steward Heinrich Kubis told him the Chief Rigger Ludwig Knorr noticed damage of Cell 4 shortly before the disaster.
  • Rumors that the Gestapo had investigated Spehl's possible involvement in 1938.
  • Spehl's interest in amateur photography, making him familiar with flashbulbs that could have served as an igniter.
  • The discovery by representatives of the New York Police Department (NYPD) Bomb Squad of a substance that was later determined to likely be "the insoluble residue from the depolarizing element of a small, dry battery." (Hoehling postulated that a dry cell battery could have powered a flashbulb in an incendiary device.)
  • The discovery by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents of a yellow substance on the valve cap of the airship between cells 4 and 5 where the fire was first reported. Although initially suspected to be sulfur, which can ignite hydrogen, it was later determined that the residue was actually from a fire extinguisher.
  • A flash or a bright reflection in gas cell 4, that crew members near the lower fin had seen just before the fire.

Hoelhling published a book about his theory called, "Who Destroyed the Hindenburg?" In his book, it tells how Spehl might have been able to carry out the sabotage. It says in the book, that Spehl's plan was not to murder anyone on board. Spehl's plan was to destroy the Hindenburg with nobody but himself on it, to show the Nazi's that there would be a war against them. The ship would have been landed, so everybody would be off, though the newsreel cameras would capture the destruction as it happened. Unfortunately, Spehl's plan was accidentally botched, because the Hindenburg's landing was delayed by over 12 hours. Horrified, Spehl realized he had no way to defuse the bomb or change the time of detonation, so instead of exploding on the ground and hurting no one, the bomb exploded and set the airship on fire while it was still in the air during the landing, therefore resulting in the disaster and his death.

Interested, Hoehling's theory was investigated by private detectives to find out if Spehl could have been the potential saboteur. They checked his background history and his ties with Nazi-Germany. They searched his old home for weapons. However, they couldn't find any signs that Spehl destroyed the airship. However, Spehl's possible story was published into a novel by Michael Mooney in 1972 (though Spehl's name and other historical names were changed) and was later adapted into a movie in 1975, starring George C. Scott. However, after much investigation, Spehl was found "not guilty" too. He was the last potential suspect, therefore debunking the sabotage theory.

Also, scientists say that if it was a bomb, the explosion would have been much bigger, and there would be bigger flames leaking before the explosion, so this theory was debunked. However, some workers at the Zeppelin company actually hoped that it was sabotage because that would mean that it wasn't the airship's fault that it burst into flames. However, everybody mostly believed that it was indeed the airship's fault and that hydrogen airships were inherently unsafe (this was confirmed multiple times over the year).

Engine Sparks [ edit | edit source ]

Another possible cause was that the engine might have been malfunctioning. It's predicted the electrical batteries might have been setting off sparks accidentally, spraying them into the ship's hull, igniting the hydrogen gas bag, or a possible hydrogen leak (as the ship was tail heavy). This seemed plausible, except for the fact that the sparks from the engine were not hot enough to ignite the hydrogen.

Paint Theory [ edit | edit source ]

This recent theory was proposed in 1996. It has been rumored that the Hindenburg with a chemical that was highly used in rocket fuel. This theory predicts that the paint may have been ignited by a static spark on the hull, causing the paint to catch fire first, then blow up the hydrogen gasbag. This theory was debunked multiple times because the fire would have been way fiercer if the paint was like that. Also, even if it was painted on, with the fabric surrounding the ship would still burn at the same rate with or without it.

Smoking Lounge Leak [ edit | edit source ]

Some people thought that because the Hindenburg had a smoking lounge, the hydrogen could easily catch fire from the tobacco smoke. However, the smoking lounge had been pressurized, so there was little chance of any smoke escaping into the ship. Some people thought that the smoking lounge hadn't been built properly and something broke causing the smoke to leak into the ship's hull, igniting the hydrogen inside a gasbag. However, there was nobody smoking inside the cabin at the time. Also, there seemed to be nothing wrong with the smoking lounge, so this theory was never taken seriously.

Most Likely Cause of Ignition-Hydrogen Leak and Static Electricity [ edit | edit source ]

The most likely cause of the Hindenburg Disaster was Foul Weather, a Hydrogen leak, rain, wet grass, and static electricity. It was a series of unfortunate events that would eventually spell the ultimate disaster. It all started with the weather.


This Week in History, May 5–10: Know about the Hindenburg disaster, the end of WWII in Europe, and the inauguration of Nelson Mandela as president of South Africa

May 5 1862
Mexico is victorious at the Battle of Puebla
This victory against French forces became a symbol of resistance to foreign domination and is now celebrated as Cinco de Mayo.

May 6 1937
The Hindenburg is destroyed
Filled with highly flammable hydrogen, the German dirigible caught fire during the second of its scheduled 1937 transatlantic crossings, killing 36 passengers and crew.

May 8 1945
World War II in Europe ends
Following Germany's unconditional surrender, World War II in Europe ended at midnight on this day, though the war in the Pacific continued until September.

May 9 1502
Christopher Columbus launches his fourth and final voyage
Hoping to find a passage to Asia, Columbus sailed from Cádiz, Spain, and began what was ultimately regarded as his unluckiest voyage.

May 10 1994
Nelson Mandela is inaugurated as president of South Africa
The following year, he established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which investigated human rights violations under apartheid.


This Day in History: 05/06/1937 - The Hindenburg disaster - HISTORY

Wikimedia Commons The explosion killed 13 passengers, 22 crew members, and one man on the ground.

At the 75th-anniversary memorial service for the Hindenburg disaster, aviation historian Dan Grossman was approached by a man in the crowd. Offhandedly, the stranger said he had some footage of the zeppelin explosion. That film has now provided an unseen angle of the disaster — and may have solved a mystery about its cause.

“I’ve got some film of the Hindenburg disaster,” the man, Bob Schenck, said. “You probably don’t really care. It was taken by my uncle, but if you want to see it I will show it to you.”

Grossman realized the footage’s significance as soon as he watched it. “My reaction was just — wow,” Grossman said. “I can’t believe we have this angle.”

The Hindenburg was a zeppelin, or airship, that exploded in Lakehurst, New Jersey on May 6, 1937. Cameramen on the ground captured the horrific scene, as radio announcer Herbert Morrison cried, “Oh, the humanity!”

Wikimedia Commons The Hindenburg over Manhattan, shortly before its explosion. Swastikas are visible on its tail.

That day, Bob Schenck’s uncle Harold stood waiting with the crowd for the airship to arrive. The Hindenburg had set off from Frankfurt, Germany, three days earlier — and was running late. As it approached, Harold Schenck raised his wind-up camera and began to shoot footage, two minutes at a time.

In doing so, Harold captured something that the press didn’t. Most of the cameramen were waiting for the Hindenburg to arrive so that they could get footage of people disembarking. For this reason, most of the previously-known footage only captured what happened after the explosion already started.

“Mr. Schenck was filming all the stuff that the press pool did not film, but even he missed the exact moment that the spark sparked,” said Rushmore DeNooyer, a writer and producer for a new documentary about the Hindenburg. “[The Hindenburg] goes from pristine airship … to just charred wreckage on the ground in just 60 seconds.”

But Harold did capture something significant — ropes. His footage shows the moment that the Hindenburg lowered its landing ropes, about four minutes before it exploded.

German and American investigators at the time agreed that a spark of static discharge triggered the Hindenburg’s explosion. Lowering the ropes could have caused a spark, which then interacted with an existing hydrogen leak.

That’s something, Grossman said, that the Hindenburg’s operators could have prevented.

“It was never going to be ‘safe,’ you can never safely operate a flying bomb,” Grossman said. “But the Germans had developed very deliberate and careful protocols for how to operate an airship, and many of those were ignored.”

Several factors that day may have contributed to the shortcuts the crew took. One, an early thunderstorm increased the risk of static discharge. Two, the Hindenburg was running late. Its crew, in a hurry to land, attempted a “high landing.” That involved dropping ropes from a high altitude and winching the aircraft to the ground.

It just so happened that a high landing had a higher risk of generating sparks than a “low landing.”

“You can never operate a hydrogen airship in complete safety, and you can certainly never operate one in complete safety where there are thunderstorms,” Grossman explained. “But you can operate it in a safer or a less safe manner, and they chose the less safe manner by choosing a high landing rather than a low landing.”

Wikimedia Commons Flames pour out of the Hindenburg as it falls to the ground.

Harold Schenck had lowered his camera after capturing the zeppelin’s arrival. But after it exploded, he starting filming again. This time Schenck — standing at a different angle from the press — captured a wider angle of the Hindenburg explosion that previously seen. His film captures both the nose and the tail of the flaming airship.

“Because of where the newsreel photographers were, which was very close to the bow, or nose, of the airship, you just don’t see that,” Grossman said about Schenck’s footage.

“As it exploded, he had the camera at his side and it was a wind-up camera so he had the presence of mind to switch it on and pick it up at that moment.”

The radio announcer Morrison captured the horror of the moment in his radio broadcast. “Listen, folks I … I’m gonna have to stop for a minute because I’ve lost my voice. This is the worst thing I’ve ever witnessed,” he said.

Grossman acknowledged the utter awfulness of the disaster. “One moment there was this big, beautiful airship safely coming in to land — and then the next moment there was this incredibly dramatic fire. And then within about a minute there’s nothing left of it,” he said.

Central Press/Getty Images The Hindenburg took less than a minute to burn.

With the new footage, Grossman said, “You really get a sense of what it would have been like to see it with your own eyes, which I don’t think you get quite the same way from the tight close-up shots that you see in the newsreels.”

Schenck’s footage of the Hindenburg explosion will play a prominent role in a PBS documentary coming out in May 2021. Grossman and U.S. Air Force veteran Jason O. Harris will seek to answer why the fire happened in the first place.

After reading about the new Hindenburg footage, look through these pictures of the Challenger explosion. Or, watch this rare footage of the Titanic.


Hindenburg Disaster Ends the Age of Zeppelins

The Hindenburg bursts into flames as it approaches its mooring mast. Thirty-six people died.

By Ray Setterfield

July 8, 1838 — Mention the name Zeppelin and many people think immediately of the airships that bore the aircraft pioneer&rsquos name. But there was more to him than that. A lot more. In fact, he was born in Germany on this day as Ferdinand Adolf August Heinrich Graf von Zeppelin. Quite a mouthful!

After an unremarkable childhood Zeppelin joined the army at the age of 20 and became a member of an expedition that went to North America searching for the source of the Mississippi river.

While in Minnesota, he made several balloon ascents at St. Paul, acting as a military observer for the Union Army during the Civil War.
This triggered his fascination for balloon aviation and after he retired from the army in 1891 with the rank of brigadier-general he began to study aeronautics.

In 1894, at the age of 60, he decided to invest all his own money in a company producing airships after the German government rejected his ideas. Within four years, at his factory in Friedrichshafen, Germany, he had assembled his first machine &ndash the LZ1. The initials stood for Luftschiff Zeppelin (Zeppelin Airship).

Rigid airships, now also called a dirigible or Zeppelin, have a covered steel framework that houses gas-filled bags. The LZ1 weighed 12 tons, contained 400,000 cubic feet of gas bags within its steel cigar-shaped 128 metres (420ft) long structure, and was driven by propellers connected to two 15hp Daimler engines.

Even the sceptical government was impressed and after the LZ1&rsquos first flight on July 2, 1900, state money was poured into the project.

The world&rsquos first passenger-paying airline &ndash Deutsche Luftschiffahrts-AG (DELAG) &ndash began commercial flights using Zeppelins in 1910. Within four years it had operated more than 1,500 flights carrying over 10,000 passengers.

Then came the First World War and militarised Zeppelins were used for air raids on Britain and France. The airships could fly at 136kph (84.5mph) and reach a height of 4,250 metres (14,000ft). They were equipped with five machine guns and could carry 2,000kg (4,400lb) of bombs.

During the war about 500 people in Britain were killed by Zeppelin bombs. But the airships were big and slow &ndash an easy target for anti-aircraft guns &ndash and 40 were shot down over London before the Germans withdrew them from military service.

Ferdinand Zeppelin died in 1917, aged 78. But that didn&rsquot stop airship construction continuing. Indeed, Zeppelin&rsquos successor, Hugo Eckener, built one of the most successful dirigibles, the Graf Zeppelin which, between 1928 and 1937 made 590 flights, including 144 ocean crossings.

It was around this time, in 1936 to be precise, that Germany made a fateful decision that would spell the end of airship travel. It inaugurated a regular transatlantic passenger service with the dirigible LZ129 Hindenburg.

The Hindenburg was scheduled to carry 1,002 passengers on 10 round trips between Germany and the United States. The giant airship, 804-foot long and powered by four 1,050hp engines, had a top speed of 135km (84 miles) per hour, a cruising speed of 126km (78 miles) per hour and a range of 8,000 miles.

In an echo of the Titanic, Hindenburg&rsquos luxurious amenities included a dining room, cocktail lounge, a library and a sitting room equipped with a grand piano. Passengers could take long walks along promenades edged by large windows.

And the trip was all so smooth and pleasant. Journalist Louis Lochner wrote: "You felt as though you were carried in the arms of angels."

There was, however, a fatal flaw. The airship was of conventional Zeppelin design and was made to be filled with helium gas bags. But because of export restrictions by the United States against Nazi Germany, it was instead filled with bags of highly flammable hydrogen.

On the second of its scheduled transatlantic crossings, the Hindenburg came in to land at Lakehurst, New Jersey. As it approached the mooring mast witnesses saw a small flame rise from the tail section. To the horror of onlookers and cameramen recording the event, the airship then burst into flames.

It took only 34 seconds for the entire airship to be consumed by fire. Thirty-five of the 97 people on board died, as did a member of the ground crew.

It was believed at the time that the fire was caused by a hydrogen gas leak ignited by a spark of static electricity, but the precise reason for the disaster is still unknown.

Whatever the cause, it spelt the end for Zeppelins and their brief history of commercial flight.


This Day in History: 05/06/1937 - The Hindenburg disaster - HISTORY

“Oh the humanity,” cried journalist Herb Morrison as the Hindenburg crashed to earth in a ball of fire and fury.

As the largest airship ever built, the Hindenburg was a symbol of mankind’s quest to conquer the skies and of Nazi Germany’s ongoing rise in power.

However, on the 6th of May, 1937, disaster struck the airship as it came into land in New Jersey, USA.

The newsreel footage and commentary from the time are iconic and distressing in equal measure. But what caused the disaster and dozens of deaths?

The peak of innovation

Airships were, by no means, a newcomer in the world of aviation.

In 1852, Henri Giffard developed and constructed the first ‘airship’ of its kind. More than half a century later, airships were being deployed as weapons of war.

During the First World War, Germany had caused havoc above the skies of Britain using rigid-hulled airships known as ‘zeppelins’, which were named after the inventor Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin.

In the late 1920s, one of the most famous airships ever built, the Graf Zeppelin, travelled around the world. This particular zeppelin was a trailblazer of sorts, offering the first commercial transatlantic passenger flight service.

Graf Zeppelin may have blazed the trail in transatlantic airship flights. However, with the Hindenburg, the intention was to perfect it at a mass scale.

Although the Hindenburg was a larger passenger airship with greater capabilities, it still possessed the same potentially fatal flaw as others of its time hydrogen gas.

Hydrogen was used to lift the airship, and while this was efficient, the highly flammable nature of hydrogen posed questions over safety.

The Hindenburg pictured over Manhattan shortly before the disaster.

Disaster strikes

On the 3rd May 1937, three days before the disaster, the Hindenburg left Frankfurt to embark on a voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. This voyage was meant to mark the first of 10 between Europe and the United States and followed a recent trip to Rio de Janeiro just two months prior.

After making its way across the ocean, the airship was set to land at Lakehurst Naval Airbase, New Jersey, carrying 36 passengers and 61 crew. While attempting to moor at the airbase, however, the Hindenburg erupted into a ball of flames and cascaded some 200 feet to the ground.

In total, 35 people died in the disaster 13 passengers, 21 crew members and one civilian ground crew member. Many survivors of the crash were left irrevocably scarred by burns and other various injuries.

Present at the airbase that day, Herb Morrison saw the disaster unfold before his eyes. Morrison had arrived there with the intention of doing a quick and easy voice-over for NBC.

His commentary as disaster struck has seared the footage of that flaming wreck into the minds of millions over the years. You can listen to Herb Morrison’s commentary of the Hindenburg disaster today on YouTube.

What happened that day?

The exact cause of the disaster has prompted debate over the years. However, the commonly accepted cause was that a static spark ignited the highly flammable hydrogen gas used by the airship.

Investigations following the disaster found that poor weather conditions at the time of the crash, combined with a hydrogen leak. were to blame.

Speaking to LiveScience in 2017, airship historian Dan Grossman said: “The Hindenburg disaster has a bit of an air of a mystery about it, but to be honest, I don’t think there is a reason for that.

“We know pretty much everything about it. We know that hydrogen was leaking and that it was ignited probably by an electrostatic discharge caused by the weather – there was a thunderstorm at the time of the landing.”

One thing that is for certain is that the age of the airship all but came to a close with the Hindenburg disaster.

The age of the aeroplane had truly dawned, and in 1939 Pan American began operating its first transatlantic passenger services. The first Pan American flights began in June of 1939, with aircraft travelling between New York and Marseilles. In July, another service between New York and Southampton was launched.


May 6, 1937 Hindenburg

The largest dirigible ever built, an airship the size of Titanic burst into flames as the hull collapsed and plummeted to the ground. Passengers and crew jumped for their lives and scrambled to safety along with ground crews only moments earlier, positioned to receive the ship.

The airship Hindenburg left Frankfurt airfield on her last flight at 7:16pm, May 3, 1937, carrying 97 passengers and crew. Crossing over Cologne, Beachy Head and Newfoundland, the largest dirigible ever constructed arrived over Boston at noon on May 6. By 3:00pm she was over the skyscrapers of Manhattan, headed for the Naval Air Station in Lakehurst, New Jersey.

Foul weather caused a half-day’s delay but the landing was eventually cleared, the final S turn approach executed toward the landing tower, at 7:21pm. Within moments, the ship arrived at the mooring mast. She was 180-feet above the ground with forward landing ropes deployed when the first flames appeared near the top tail fin.

Eyewitness accounts differ as to where the fire, came from. The leading theory is that, with the metal framework grounded through the landing line, the ship’s fabric covering became charged in the electrically charged atmosphere, sending a spark to the air frame and igniting a hydrogen leak. Seven million cubic feet of hydrogen ignited almost simultaneously. It was over in less than 40 seconds.

The largest dirigible ever built, an airship the size of Titanic burst into flames as the hull collapsed and plummeted to the ground. Passengers and crew jumped for their lives and scrambled to safety along with ground crews only moments earlier, positioned to receive the ship.

The famous film shows ground crew running for their lives, and then turning and running back to the flames. It’s natural enough to have run, but there’s something the film doesn’t show. That was Chief Petty Officer Frederick “Bull” Tobin, the airship veteran in charge of the landing party, bellowing at his sailors above the roar of the flames. “Navy men, Stand fast! We’ve got to get those people out of there!” On September 4, 1923 Tobin had survived the crash of the USS Shenandoah. He wasn’t about to abandon his post, even if it cost him his life. Tobin’s Navy men obeyed. That’s what you’re seeing when they turn and run back to the flames.

The Hindenburg disaster is sometimes compared with that of the Titanic, but there’s a common misconception that the former disaster was the more deadly of the two. In fact, 64% of the passengers and crew aboard the airship survived the fiery crash, despite having only seconds to react. In contrast, officers on board the Titanic had 2½ hours to evacuate, yet most of the lifeboats were launched from level decks with empty seats. Only 32% of Titanic passengers and crew survived the sinking. It’s estimated that an additional 500 lives could have been saved, had there been a more orderly, competent, evacuation of the ship.

As it was, 35 passengers and crew lost their lives on this day in 1937, and one civilian ground crew. Without doubt the number would have been higher, if not for the actions of Bull Tobin and is Navy men.

Where a person was inside the airship, had a lot to do with their chances of survival. Mr and Mrs Hermann Doehner and their three children (Irene, 16, Walter, 10, and Werner, 8) were in the dining room, watching the landing. Mr. Doehner left before the fire broke out. Mrs. Doehner and the two boys were able to jump out but Irene went looking for her father. Both died in the crash.

For all the film of the Hindenburg disaster, there is no footage showing the moment of ignition. Investigators theorized a loose cable creating a spark or static charge from the electrically charged atmosphere. Some believed the wreck to be the result of sabotage, but that theory is largely debunked.

Four score years after the disaster, the reigning hypothesis begins with the static electricity theory, the fire fed and magnified by the incendiary iron oxide/aluminum impregnated cellulose “dope” with which the highly flammable hydrogen envelope, was painted.

The 35 year era of the dirigible was filled with accidents before Hindenburg, but none dampened public enthusiasm for lighter-than-air travel. The British R-101 accident killed 48, the crash of the USS Akron 73. The LZ-4, LZ-5, Deutschland, Deutschland II, Italia, Schwaben, R-38, R-101, Shenandoah, Macon, and others. All had crashed, disappeared into the darkness, or over the ocean. Hindenburg alone was caught on film, the fiery crash recorded for all to see. The age of the dirigible, had come to an end.


Sekcastillohistory20

The airship Hindenburg, the largest dirigible ever built and the pride of Nazi Germany, bursts into flames upon touching its mooring mast in Lakehurst, New Jersey, killing 36 passengers and crewmembers.Frenchman Henri Giffard constructed the first successful airship in 1852. His hydrogen-filled blimp carried a three-horsepower steam engine that turned a large propeller and flew at a speed of six miles per hour. The rigid airship, often known as the “zeppelin” after the last name of its innovator, Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, was developed by the Germans in the late 19th century. Unlike French airships, the German ships had a light framework of metal girders that protected a gas-filled interior. However, like Giffard’s airship, they were lifted by highly flammable hydrogen gas and vulnerable to explosion. Large enough to carry substantial numbers of passengers, one of the most famous rigid airships was the Graf Zeppelin, a dirigible that traveled around the world in 1929. In the 1930s, the Graf Zeppelin pioneered the first transatlantic air service, leading to the construction of the Hindenburg, a larger passenger airship.

On May 3, 1937, the Hindenburg left Frankfurt, Germany, for a journey across the Atlantic to Lakehurst’s Navy Air Base. Stretching 804 feet from stern to bow, it carried 36 passengers and crew of 61. While attempting to moor at Lakehurst, the airship suddenly burst into flames, probably after a spark ignited its hydrogen core. Rapidly falling 200 feet to the ground, the hull of the airship incinerated within seconds. Thirteen passengers, 21 crewmen, and 1 civilian member of the ground crew lost their lives, and most of the survivors suffered substantial injuries.

Radio announcer Herb Morrison, who came to Lakehurst to record a routine voice-over for an NBC newsreel, immortalized the Hindenberg disaster in a famous on-the-scene description in which he emotionally declared, “Oh, the humanity!” The recording of Morrison’s commentary was immediately flown to New York, where it was aired as part of America’s first coast-to-coast radio news broadcast. Lighter-than-air passenger travel rapidly fell out of favor after the Hindenberg disaster, and no rigid airships survived World War II.


The Hindenburg disaster

On this day in 1937, the airship Hindenburg, the largest dirigible ever built and the pride of Nazi Germany, bursts into flames upon touching its mooring mast in Lakehurst, New Jersey, killing 36 passengers and crew members. Frenchman Henri Giffard constructed the first successful airship in 1852. His hydrogen-filled blimp carried a three-horsepower steam engine that turned a large propeller and flew at a speed of six miles per hour.

The rigid airship, often known as the "zeppelin" after the last name of its innovator, Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, was developed by the Germans in the late 19th century. Unlike French airships, the German ships had a light framework of metal girders that protected a gas-filled interior. However, like Giffard's airship, they were lifted by highly flammable hydrogen gas and vulnerable to explosion.

Crash and burn: three air disasters caught on camera

Large enough to carry substantial numbers of passengers, one of the most famous rigid airships was the Graf Zeppelin, a dirigible that travelled around the world in 1929. In the 1930s, the Graf Zeppelin pioneered the first transatlantic air service, leading to the construction of the Hindenburg, a larger passenger airship.

On 3 May 1937, the Hindenburg left Frankfurt, Germany, for a journey across the Atlantic to Lakehurst's Navy Air Base. Stretching 804 feet from stern to bow, it carried 36 passengers and crew of 61. While attempting to moor at Lakehurst, the airship suddenly burst into flames, probably after a spark ignited its hydrogen core. Rapidly falling 200 feet to the ground, the hull of the airship incinerated within seconds.

Thirteen passengers, 21 crewmen, and 1 civilian member of the ground crew lost their lives, and most of the survivors suffered substantial injuries. Radio announcer Herb Morrison, who came to Lakehurst to record a routine voice-over for an NBC newsreel, immortalised the Hindenberg disaster in a famous on-scene description in which he emotionally declared, "Oh, the humanity!"

The recording of Morrison's commentary was immediately flown to New York, where it was aired as part of America's first coast-to-coast radio news broadcast. Lighter-than-air passenger travel rapidly fell out of favour after the Hindenberg disaster, and no rigid airships survived World War II.


On this day in history, the German passenger airship LZ 129 Hindenburg caught fire and was destroyed during its attempt to dock with its mooring mast at Naval Air Station Lakehurst in Manchester Township, New Jersey. Of the 97 people on board (36 passengers and 61 crewmen), there were 35 fatalities (13 passengers and 22 crewmen). One worker on the ground was also killed, making a total of 36 fatalities.

The Hindenburg, built by the Nazis and named after former President of Germany Paul von Hindenburg was a Zeppelin, a type of rigid airship named after the German Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin who pioneered rigid airship development at the beginning of the 20th century.

The Hindenburg on its first flight on March 4, 1936. The name of the airship was not yet painted on the hull, but Nazi swastikas can be seen on the fins.

With the coming to power of the Nazi Party in 1933, Zeppelins became a propaganda tool for the new regime: they would now display the Nazi swastika on their fins and occasionally tour Germany to play march music and propaganda speeches to the people. In 1934 Joseph Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda, contributed two million reichsmarks towards the construction of The Hindenburg, and in 1935 Hermann Göring established a new airline to take over Zeppelin operations.

The Hindenburg was the largest airship ever built. It had been designed to use non-flammable helium, but the only supplies of that gas were controlled by the United States, which refused to allow its export. So, in what proved to be a fatal decision, the Hindenburg was filled with flammable hydrogen. Apart from the propaganda missions, LZ 129 was used on the transatlantic service alongside Graf Zeppelin.

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The Hindenburg departed from Frankfurt, Germany in the evening of May 3, 1937, on the first of ten round trips between Europe and the United States that were scheduled for its second year of commercial service. American Airlines had contracted with the operators of the Hindenburg to shuttle the passengers from Lakehurst to Newark for connections to airplane flights.

Although carrying only half its full capacity of passengers and crewmen, the Hindenburg was fully booked for its return flight. The airship was hours behind schedule when she passed over Boston on the morning of May 6, and her landing at Lakehurst was expected to be further delayed because of afternoon thunderstorms. After finally being notified at 6:22 p.m. that the storms had passed, the captain directed the airship to make its landing almost half a day late. However, at 7:25 p.m local time, the Hindenburg caught fire and quickly became engulfed in flames. Where the fire started is unknown witnesses gave conflicting testimony.

The fire bursts out of the nose of the Hindenburg.

The disaster was well-documented because publicity about the first transatlantic passenger flight of the year by Zeppelin to the United States attracted a large number of journalists to the landing site.

The spectacular film footage destroyed public and industry faith in airships and marked the end of the giant passenger-carrying airships. Also contributing to the Zeppelins’ downfall was the beginning of international passenger air travel with Pan American Airlines. Heavier-than-air aircraft regularly crossed the Atlantic and Pacific much faster than the 130 km/h (80 mph) speed of the Hindenburg.


Watch the video: Hindenburg Disaster: Real Zeppelin Explosion Footage 1937. British Pathé