The Hindenburg

The Hindenburg Disaster

The hindenburg disaster was one of the worst catastrophes the world has ever witnessed. It occured in Lakehurst, New Jersey, on May 6, 1937, when the German airship LZ 129 Hindenburg caught fire and fell 650 feet to the ground. In total the hindenburg disaster claimed the lives of 36 people (13 passengers, 22 crew, and 1 ground crew). The Hindenburg left Frankfurt, Germany on May 3, 1937, and was headed to the Lakehurst Naval Air Station on the airships 63rd flight. The Zeppelin was piloted by Captain Max Pruss and First Officer Albert Sammt. The fiery end of the world’s most luxurious airship also ended an era where airships dominated the skies.

The LZ 129 Hindenburg was the largest object to ever take flight (nearly three times the size of NASA’s largest rocket). It measured over 800 feet (245 meters) long and could hold 7,062,000 cubic feet (200,000 cubic meters) of hydrogen, along with 72 people. The airship had a top speed of 84 mph (135 km/h). The airship included a luxurious dining room (rivaling many ocean liners at the time), writing rooms, washrooms, lounges, and a state of the art bar. The Hindenburg could make the atlantic crossing in just 72 hours. Construction of the LZ 129 Hindenburg began in 1931 by the Zeppelin Company (see airships) and it took its first flight on March 4, 1936.

The Hindenburg flying.

It is most widely accepted that the fire that destroyed the Hindenburg was caused by an electric spark. The spark occurred due to a buildup of static electricity on the airship which ignited hydrogen on the outer skin. The skin of the ship was not constructed in a way to disperse static electricity and therefore allowed for static electricity to build up. Hugo Eckener, head of the Zeppelin Company at the time, theorized that “although mooring lines were not wet when they first hit the ground and ignition took place four minutes after, the lines may have become wet in these four minutes. When the ropes, which were connected to the frame, became wet, they would have grounded the frame but not the skin. This would have caused a sudden potential difference between skin and frame and would have set off an electrical discharge. Seeking the quickest way to ground, the spark would have jumped from the skin onto the metal framework, igniting the leaking hydrogen.” However, we will never know for sure what caused the airship to catch fire.

Today, the site of the disaster is outlined with a chain pad, and a bronze plaque stands testimony to the events of May, 1937. On the 31st anniversary of the disaster (May 6, 1968) Hangar No. 1 where the airship was to be housed after landing was registered as a National Historic Landmark.