The True Story behind The Hindenburg Disaster

There have been various hypotheses as to why the fire ensued, with people debating between different scenarios it remains a mystery.

The Hindenburg disaster happened on May 6, 1937, in Manchester, New Jersey, United States. The German airship LZ 129 Hindenburg caught fire and was destroyed while it was trying to dock with its mooring mast at the Naval Air Station in Lakehurst.

This accident resulted in 35 fatalities out of the 97 people on board, with one more fatality on the ground. Why did this happen, you ask? There have been various hypotheses as to why the fire ensued, with people debating between the cause of the ignition and the fuel for causing the fire.

Similar to some of the worst navy accidents around the world, the Hindenburg disaster is one of the worst crashes ever to exist. Just like celebrities have lost their lives in deadly car accidents, regular people lost their lives while trying to go on a normal trip from Germany to the United States.

Let’s dive deeper as to the real truth behind the Hindenburg disaster.

After the Hindenburg opened its season with a single trip, the same airship departed from Frankfurt, Germany on the evening of May 3. In the beginning part of the trip, little happened. The journey was going as planned, although the airship was carrying only half of its full capacity.

Behind Schedule

The airship, however, fell behind schedule as it was passing over Boston. Due to being behind schedule, they had hit some poor weather. The captain had to circle and travel a bit longer in order to wait out the inclement weather. At around 7:00 pm, the Hindenburg began its final approach to the Lakehurst Naval Air Station.

The Landing 

The airship was supposed to drop its landing ropes at a high altitude and be winched down to the mooring mast. This reduces the number of ground crewmen, but takes a little bit more time.

At 7:21, while they were tying the airship to the moor, the port line was over tightened and the starboard line had still not been connected. This was the beginning of the end. At 7:25 pm, a few witnesses saw flames appearing in the ship, while those on board said they heard a detonation and a shock as the rope was over tightened.

Cause of Ignition

There are various hypotheses as to why the aircraft caught fire. At the time of the disaster, Hugo Eckener, the former head of the Zeppelin Company, claimed that it could have been a result of a shot, since there were threatening letters sent before the incident. Commander Charles Rosendahl, the commander of the Naval Air Station, also believed this was the cause of the crash.

Most crew members refused to believe that one of them would carry out an act of sabotage. Similarly, most airship historians have dismissed the hypothesis since there was no solid evidence to support it.

The most widely supported theory today is that hydrogen was ignited by a static spark. The support for this hypothesis is that there was a hydrogen leak prior to the fire before landing. This could have been caused by a leak of the gas and creating a form of oxy-hydrogen. The gas could have been leaked by either snapping a torn gas cell open, or by an automatic gas valve being stuck open, causing gas to leak through.

The Disaster

At 7:25, the Hindenburg caught fire and soon became engulfed in flames. There is a discrepancy of where the fire actually started, with some saying it broke out on the port side, while some claiming it began ahead of the horizontal port fin.

The flames spread quickly to cells 1 to 9, engulfing the entire airship and causing two tanks to burst. As the tail of the airship fell to the ground, a burst of flame emerged from the hose, killing 9 of the 12 crew members on the ground. Although the hydrogen finished burning as the airship hit the ground, the diesel fuel continued to burn for many more hours.


The time it took from the first moment something went wrong to the bow crashing on the ground below was less than 40 seconds. None of the newsreel cameras were filming the airship, so the time between the initial problem and the crash is an estimate based on eyewitness accounts.


Recycling Of Parts

Some of the framework of the airship was saved and shipped back to Germany, where the parts were recycled and used in the construction of the Luftwaffe, an aerial military warfare aircraft used during World War II. The salvaged parts were also used in the LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin, a passenger-carrying airship that flew from 1928-1937. The parts were also used in the LZ 130 Graf Zeppelin II, the last of the airships built by the Zeppelin Luftschiffbau between the World Wars.


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