Hindenburg Disaster

Aviation history is a progressive history with many turning points, many successes and many disasters. These turning points can sometimes be very tragic. The Hindenburg Disaster is one of these incidents as well one of the most iconic moments in aviation history. In this article, we will examine this disaster.

LZ 129 Hindenburg

Officially called the LZ-129 Hindenburg, the Hindenburg was the largest commercial airship ever built and the most technologically advanced transport of its time. The Hindenburg was 245 meters long and 41.2 meters in diameter. In terms of dimensions, it was three times larger than the Boeing 747. It was cruising at a speed of 122 kilometers per hour and could reach a maximum speed of 135 kilometers per hour. Named after former Weimar Republic president Paul von Hindenburg (1847-1934), the ship built in March 1936 and had flown 63 times, primarily from Germany to North and South America.

The Hindenburg was powered by four engines and wider than the other airships. These specifications was making its course more stable. Sixteen gas cells made of gelatinized cotton kept the ship aloft. The Hindenburg’s gas cells were planned to be filled with helium which is safer than hydrogen, as it is not flammable. However, due to the sanctions imposed by the USA on Germany, the airship was filled with hydrogen.

Hindenburg Disaster

The Last Flight

The passengers of the Hindenburg traveled from Europe to North and South America in half the time of the fastest ocean liner. In addition, they were accommodated in luxurious interiors that could never be provided on air travel. The Hindenburg began its 63rd and final journey on May 3, 1937 at 19:16 in Frankfurt, Germany. It made its flight with 36 passengers and 61 crew. The giant airship’s heated cabins contained 72 passenger beds, an elegant silk-walled dining room. Moreover, it had lounge, writing room, bar, smoking room, and promenades with in-flight windows. The furniture, even the piano played in the hall, was designed using lightweight aluminum.

Special precautions had been taken to ensure the smoking room was safe. It had a double-door airlock to prevent hydrogen from entering. After crossing the Dutch and English Channels over Cologne, it started the Atlantic crossing at around 2:00. Then it reached North America in Newfoundland via the southern tip of Greenland. It reached Boston on May 6 at noon, and reached Manhattan in New York at 15:00. It passed over the skyscrapers.

Hindenburg Disaster

The Fall of the Hindenburg

At around 19:00 local time, at an altitude of 650 feet (200 m), Hindenburg made its final approach to Lakehurst Naval Air Base. At 19:25 local time, the Hindenburg caught fire and was quickly engulfed in flames. Eyewitness testimonies cannot agree on where the fire first started. A few witnesses on the port side saw the flames first leap forward from the upper wing near the ventilation shaft of cells 4 and 5. Other witnesses on the port side noted that the fire actually started just in front of the horizontal pier wing. But after that flames formed in front of the upper fin.

One, looking to starboard, saw flames starting lower and further aft near cell 1 behind the rudders. Inside the airship, helmsman Helmut Lau, stationed on the lower fin, stated that he heard a muffled explosion. And he looked up to see a bright reflection in the front chamber of gas cell 4. Thend it had “suddenly vanished from the heat”. As the other gas cells began to ignite, the fire spread more to starboard and the ship sank rapidly. Cameramen recorded the landing from four news crews and at least one spectator. And a large number of photographers were also on the scene. However, there are no images or photographs of the moment the fire started.

Dramatic End of Hindenburg

As the Hindenburg’s tail fell to the ground, a burst of flame from the nose killed 9 of the 12 crewmen in the bow. There was still gas in the bow section of the ship, so it continued to point upward as the stern collapsed. The cell behind the passenger decks ignited as it collapsed to the side. And the red letters “Hindenburg” were swept away by the flames as the bow descended.

The time from the first signs of disaster to the bow hitting the ground is usually reported as 32, 34 or 37 seconds. Since none of the newsreel cameras were filming the airship when the fire first started, the time to start can only be estimated from various eyewitness accounts and the duration of the longest footage of the accident.

The Hindenburg disaster is one of the most tragic events in aviation history. In addition, this tragic event marked the end of the commercial use of airships for passenger transport.

References:

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Hindenburg

https://www.britannica.com/story/the-hindenburg-before-and-after-disaster

https://www.historytoday.com/hindenburg-disaster-and-end-airship-era

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