On May 6, 1937, the Hindenburg, a German airship, caught on fire and crashed at Lakehurst, New Jersey, effectively ending the use of airships as a form of travel. Check out these compelling facts about this well-publicized disaster.
The Hindenburg Was Designed With Luxury in Mind. The Hindenburg was designed to be comfortable for passengers, with its cabins, a reading and writing room, a smoker’s lounge with bar, dining room, toilets and several promenades. All of the furnishings were lightweight, and the beds in the cabins were constructed of aluminum. Even the custom-designed grand piano onboard was constructed of an alloyed aluminum covered with pigskin.
The Airship Caught Fire Because It Was Filled With Hydrogen. The Hindenburg was designed to be filled with helium; however, the United States banned helium from being exported, so it was filled with over five million cubic feet of hydrogen instead. Hydrogen is highly flammable. While landing in New Jersey, a spark ignited the hydrogen, and the resulting fire destroyed the Hindenburg in about one minute.
The Death Toll From the Fire and Resulting Crash Was Surprisingly Low. There were 97 people aboard the Hindenburg when it caught fire and crashed, and there were 35 direct casualties and 62 survivors, although many suffered injuries. At the time of the crash, the Hindenburg was transporting 36 passengers and 61 crew members. The ship had a passenger capacity of 72, so it could have been much worse.
There Was an Airship Disaster That Was Worse Than the Hindenburg. The Hindenburg disaster became famous because of film footage and journalist Herbert Morrison’s account, but a disaster that was even worse involved the USS Akron. This American Navy airship crashed during a storm in 1933 off the New Jersey Coast. It resulted in the death of 73 men, and only three passengers aboard the airship survived.
The Famous Film Footage of the Hindenburg Disaster Was Not Live. Herbert Morrison worked for a Chicago radio station and was at the airfield when the Hindenburg caught fire and crashed. His compelling description of the airship crash was dubbed onto the newsreel, which was broadcast the next day, making it appear like a live broadcast.