Addison Bain, a retired NASA engineer and hydrogen expert, believes he has the correct answer. He states that while hydrogen might have contributed to the fire, it was not the culprit. To prove this, he points to several pieces of evidence:
- The Hindenburg did not explode but burned in numerous directions.
- The airship remained afloat for several seconds after the fire began. Some people report it did not crash for 32 seconds.
- Fabric pieces fell to ground on fire.
- The fire was not characteristic of a hydrogen fire. In fact, hydrogen makes no visible flames.
- There were no reported leaks; the hydrogen was laced with garlic to give off an odor for easy detection.
After years of exhaustive traveling and research, Bain uncovered what he believes is the answer to the Hindenburg mystery. His research shows that the Hindenburg's skin was covered with the extremely flammable cellulose nitrate or cellulose acetate, added to help with rigidity and aerodynamics. The skin was also coated with flecks of aluminum, a component of rocket fuel, to reflect sunlight and keep the hydrogen from heating and expanding. It had the further benefit of combating wear and tear from the elements. Bain claims these substances, although necessary at the time of construction, directly led to the disaster of the Hindenburg. The substances caught fire from an electric spark that caused the skin to burn. At this point the hydrogen became the fuel to the already existing fire. Therefore, the real culprit was the skin of the dirigible. The ironic point to this story is that the German Zeppelin makers knew this back in 1937. A handwritten letter in the Zeppelin Archive states, "The actual cause of the fire was the extreme easy flammability of the covering material brought about by discharges of an electrostatic nature." For more information about Dr. Bain's investigation, please refer to this article
from the California Hydrogen Business Council.