History The 17 Craziest, Most Tragic Blimp Disasters in History  

Jacoby Bancroft
9.3k views 17 items

It's not hard to look at all the blimp disasters throughout history and realize why we don't use them anymore. What's that thing in the sky? Oh, it's a giant balloon filled with flammable gas, on which people are traveling. Some of the biggest aviation accidents throughout history involve some type of blimp or airship. No matter how much work was put into design or safety features, blimp accidents were common enough to prevent the vehicles from becoming a routine part of air travel or military activity.

Archer had it right, airplanes are superior in every way. From the outside, blimps and airships look like gigantic deathtraps filled with explosive gas. Which is exactly what they were. Below is a list of the worst blimp disasters throughout history. Looking at the list, it's easy to see why we no longer value blimps as modes of transportation. Or at all, really. From the well-known Hindenburg explosion to the USS Akron tragedy and a mysterious Ghost Blimp, read on to discover the craziest blimp disasters of all time. 

The Hindenburg Disaster

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You can't have an article about blimp disasters and not mention the Holy Grail of airship accidents, the crash of the Hindenburg. It's not the deadliest blimp disaster in history, but it is perhaps the most well-known, thanks to the live radio broadcast of the Hindenburg's final moments in the air on May 6, 1937. On that fateful day, electrostatic discharge ignited leaking hydrogen, and the blimp went up in flames. All told, 35 people lost their lives, and though there were 62 survivors, the accident put an end to passenger airships. As the reporter who horrifically recounted the events live said, "oh the humanity" indeed. 

The USS Akron

The USS Akron is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The 17 Craziest, Most Tragic Blimp Disasters in History
Photo: United States Naval Historical Center/Public Domain

The Hindenburg is the most recognizable name in the annals of airship disasters, though the worst such tragedy of all time befell the USS Akron. The crash of the Akron on April 4, 1933 resulted in the deaths of 73 of the 76 men on board. Perhaps the ultimate tragedy is that almost all the deaths could have been easily prevented. 

The Akron crashed off the coast of New Jersey. It's unknown exactly what happened, though the airship was flying far too low for the terrible weather conditions of the day, and it's possible navigators simply drove it into the ocean. The crash, however, was the least of the crew's worries. Despite being a Navy vessel, the Akron had no life jacket and only one raft. Most of the men who lost their lives drowned or died of hypothermia. To make matters even worse, one of the airships that went looking for survivors crashed, claiming the lives of two more men. 

The Experimental Zeppelin LZ 4 Explodes in Front of Thousands

The Experimental Zeppelin LZ 4... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The 17 Craziest, Most Tragic Blimp Disasters in History
Photo: Photographer Unknown/Public Domain

What's the saying? If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Were it not for stubborn, dangerous perseverance, we may not have had airships or blimps at all, given the fate of the first few prototypes. One of the first experimental airships, the Zeppelin LZ 4, first launched on June 20, 1908. It was famous for making a successful 12-hour flight over Switzerland, after which the overseers wanted to test it more.

During a 24-hour endurance test, which turned out to be something of a disaster for many reasons, the blimp landed to refuel, and so mechanics could make engine repairs. On its way down, it brushed some trees, which ripped open the gasbag, generated a static charge, and blew the whole thing to hell before an audience of somewhere between 40 and 50 thousand. That could have been the end of airship development, but, somewhat improbably, the German people, having witnesses an exploding behemoth in the sky, wanted more, and their support raised enough donations to make sure the air program maintained its funding. 

The Helgoland Island Air Disaster

The Helgoland Island Air Disas... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The 17 Craziest, Most Tragic Blimp Disasters in History
Photo: Photographer Unknown/Public Domain

On September 9, 1913, tragedy struck the first airship owned by the Imperial German Navy. Originally the LZ 14, the airship's name was changed to L-1 when transferred to the Navy. On that fateful day in September, the airship confidently flew into a storm with 20 people on board, and didn't make it very far. The L-1 crashed into the North Sea near Helgoland, off the coast of Germany and broke in two. Of its passengers, 14 passengers drowned. The incident became known as the Helgoland Island Air Disaster.