On May 6, 1937, the Hindenburg disaster took place. The world’s largest Zeppelin, the LZ 129 Hindenburg, was trying to land at the Lakehurst Naval Air Base in New Jersey. It had just flown from Frankfurt, Germany, to the United States for the first time in 1937 and for the 18th time overall. At 7:25, all of a sudden, the airship caught fire, and in 30–40 seconds, the whole thing was gone.
In the accident, 36 people died (35 passengers and one ground crew member). The public lost faith in airships after the disaster, which put an end to their use.
What was the Cause of the Hindenburg Incident?
The hydrogen gas that made the ship float was what started the fire on the Hindenburg. The hydrogen on the ship caught fire because of something. But the truth is that no one knows for sure what started the fire. Most of the proof that the ship was there was burned up.
But many witnesses and the crew on board said that the Hindenburg was heavy in the back. This could have been a sign of a hydrogen leak.
combines hydrogen and air, which is a dangerous mix.
READ MORE: How Did Shemar Moore American Actor Build a $22 Million Net Worth?
It would only take a spark to set the hydrogen on fire. Many people have different ideas about what caused the spark, but there are two ideas that seem most likely (see below). No matter what happened, the accident showed that hydrogen airships are inherently dangerous.
Two Possible Saboteurs
Investigators first focused on Joseph Spach, a German acrobat who had just finished a solo tour of Europe and was going home to his wife and kids on Long Island. Some of the people who made it off the plane said that Spach was very loud about how he was bringing a German Shepherd dog home to his family and that he left a common area several times, saying he had to feed the dog.
The physically strong acrobat would have been able to climb up into the cargo area and possibly damage the hydrogen chambers, but investigators never found any proof that Spach was responsible for the crash.
READ MORE: How Old Was Actress Cameron Diaz in The Film “The Mask”?
A book about the disaster that came out in the 1960s said that a crew member was the second person suspected of sabotage. Erich Spehl was a rigger on the airship, and people thought he did it because he didn’t like the Nazis. (At the time of the Hindenburg disaster, Germany was already under Nazi control, but WWII and the horrors of the Holocaust were still years away.)
Because the Hindenburg was seen as a sign of Nazi strength and better German engineering, Spehl would have sabotaged it to make Hitler and the Nazi party look bad. Both the Americans and the Germans were able to disprove this theory.
What Was the Flight Timing?
On May 3, 1937, the last flight of the Hindenburg took off with 36 passengers and 61 officers, crew members, and trainees. It was the 63rd time the airship flew. At 7:16 PM, the ship took off from the Frankfurt airfield and flew over Cologne.
It then flew over the Netherlands and the English Channel, past the chalky cliffs of Beachy Head in southern England, and out over the Atlantic at about 2:00 AM the next day.
Hindenburg took a northern path across the ocean, passing the southern tip of Greenland and crossing the coast of North America at Newfoundland. Headwinds slowed the airship down as it crossed the Atlantic. It was supposed to arrive in Lakehurst at 6 a.m. on May 6, but it didn’t get there until 6 p.m. instead.
By noon on May 6, the ship had reached Boston, and by 3:00 PM, the Hindenburg was over the skyscrapers of Manhattan in New York City.
The ship flew south from New York and landed at the Naval Air Station at Lakehurst, New Jersey, at about 4:15 p.m., but the bad weather at the field worried the Hindenburg’s captain, Max Pruss, and the Naval Air Station’s commanding officer, Charles Rosendahl, who told the ship to wait to land until the weather got better.
Captain Pruss left the Lakehurst area and took his ship over the beaches and coast of New Jersey to wait out the storm. By 6:00 PM, the weather had improved.
At 6:12, Rosendahl sent Pruss a message with the temperature, pressure, visibility, and winds that Rosendahl thought were “suitable for landing.” At 6:22, Rosendahl radioed Pruss, “Recommend landing now.” At 7:08, Rosendahl sent a message to the ship strongly recommending the “earliest possible landing.”
Attempt to Land
The Hindenburg arrived at the Lakehurst airbase at 7 p.m. The wind wasn’t getting any better, and a second storm was coming. Pruss knew that he had to land the airship quickly or get caught in a storm. Because of the weather, the crew planned to try a “high landing.” That means that the crew would drop the landing ropes from a higher altitude, and ground crew members would pull the lines to the mooring mast, where they would be hooked up to the mast and pulled vertically down to the mast using a winch.
Once it was close enough, the nose cone would be put on.
Even though the landing was complicated, less ground crew would be needed. Captain Pruss sent the plans to commander Rosendahl, who told the crew over the intercom what he was going to do.
First, the Hindenburg had to get in place and try to stop the airship from moving. At 7:08, while the ground crew was still getting ready, Captain Pruss gave the order to make a sharp turn to the left. This would keep the ship from getting too far away from the field.