Zeppelin Hindenburg explodes, falls (1937)


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Zeppelin Hindenburg explodes, falls at Lakehurst – Known dead number 33

Giant airliner plunges in flames after safely crossing Atlantic Ocean

Her silvery bulk shattered by a terrific explosion, the German air liner Hindenburg plunged in flames at the US Naval air station tonight, with indications at least one-third of the 99 aboard perished.

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As minor explosions continued to tear her twisted aluminum skeleton and ribboned fabric hours afterward, estimate of the death toll were conflicting and duplicating.

Harry A Bruno, press relations counsel for the zeppelin company which operated the luxurious modern dirigible, said that 64 of the persons aboard her on her maiden 1937 voyage here had been reported saved.

Timothy W Margerum, of Lakewood, said there were already 40 corpses in the naval station’s garage had been hurriedly transformed into a morgue. Many of the dead were horribly burned by the oil-fed flames. Margerum reported others were dying. Hospitals for miles around were filled with the injured.

An explosion of the No. 2 gas cell toward the stern of the ship was named as the cause of the disaster by State Aviation Commissioner Gill Robb Wilson, who called the blast “strange.” The highly inflammable hydrogen gas billowed into fierce flame as the explosion plummeted the ship to the airfield. Ground spectators said crew members in the stern of the ship “never had a chance” to escape.

>> Read more: Oh, the humanity: The Hindenburg disaster (video)

The disaster struck without the least warning. The ship had angled her blunt nose toward the mooring mast, the spider-like landing lines had been snaked down from her belly, and the ground crew had grasped the ropes from the nose, when the explosion roared out, scattering ground crew and spectators like frightened sheep.

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Hindenburg as it crashes in an airfield at NAS Lakehurst N.J May 6 1937

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Passenger stunned

Tho passengers, who were waving gaily a minute before from the observation windows that slit the belly of the dirigible, were so stunned they could not describe later what happened. Some jumped to the sandy landing field along with members of the crew. Others seemed to have been pitched from the careening sky liner as it made its death plunge.

The heat drove back would-be rescuers, so it could not be determined how many the Hindenburg made a burning tomb. Fire departments from nearby communities converged on the field and soon had streams of water playing on the broken airliner. The flames still enveloped outline of the ship, apparently feeding on the fuel oil supply which the Hindenburg carried for her Delsel motors.

Somewhere in the glowing furnace were the two dogs, 340 pounds of mall and the ton of baggage which she had aboard.

F W Von Meister, vice president of the American Zeppelin Transport Co., the general US agents for the German Zeppelin Transport Co., tho Hindenberg’s owners, said there were two possible causes for the explosions.

First he listed the rainy condition which prevailed at the naval air station when the landing was attempted. The ship cruised around over the field for an hour to ride out a rain storm, and nosed down when rain was still falling.

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The rainy condition, Von Meister said, would make for the creation of n a spark of static electricity when the landing ropes were dropped, and such a spark might have touched off the highly-explosive hydrogen gas which gave the long silver ship its lifting power.

The second theory Van Meister advanced was that a spark flew from one of the engines when they were throttling down for the landing. The ship had been valving hydrogen preparatory to landing, and he theorized some of the gas might have gathered in a pocket under the tail surfaces and detonated when the sparks flew back.

Some authorities scouted the theory that the explosion could have been caused by the ignition of hydrogen inside tho gas cells. They said a mixture of 20 percent free air with hydrogen would be necessary to cause an explosion, indicating the first blast must have occurred outside outside one of the gas cells.

Aeronautical experts said the only way they could explain an explosion inside the ship would be that free hydrogen had in some way escaped and was lying in the stern of the ship, where it was accidentally ignited.

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Notes: Photos courtesy of the US Library of Congress


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