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The Hindenburg Disaster

Part 1: The Events of May 6, 1937


The Hindenburg marked the beginning and the end of transatlantic airships. This 804-foot dirigible filled with over 7 million cubic feet of hydrogen was a crowning achievement of its age. Never before or since has a larger aircraft taken flight. However, the explosion of the Hindenburg changed the landscape for lighter-than-air crafts forever.

On May 6, 1937, the Hindenburg carrying 61 crew and 36 passengers arrived hours behind schedule at Lakehurst Naval Air Station in New Jersey. Inclement weather forced this delay. Buffeted by winds and rain, the craft hovered in the area by most accounts for about an hour. The presence of lightning storms were recorded. The landing of the Hindenburg with these types of conditions was against regulations. However, by the time the Hindenburg began its landing, the weather was clearing up. The Hindenburg seems to have been traveling at a fairly fast speed for its landing and for some reason, the Captain attempted a high landing, being winched to the ground from a height of about 200 feet. Soon after the mooring lines were set, some eyewitnesses reported a blue glow on top of the Hindenburg followed by a flame towards the tail section of the craft. The flame was almost simultaneously succeeded by an explosion that quickly engulfed the craft causing it to crash into the ground killing 36 people. Spectators watched in horror as passengers and crew were burned alive or jumped to their deaths. As Herb Morrison announced for the radio, "It's burst into flames.... Get out of the way, please, oh my, this is terrible...Oh, the humanity and all the passengers."

The day after this horrible tragedy occurred, the papers started speculating about the cause of the disaster. Up until this incident, the German Zeppelins had been safe and highly successful. Many theories were talked about and investigated: sabotage, mechanical failure, hydrogen explosions, lightning or even the possibility that it was shot from the sky.

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