History

The 17 Most Tragic Blimp Disasters In History 

Jacoby Bancroft
Updated February 12, 2020 14.9k views 17 items

It's not hard to recount the many blimp disasters throughout history and realize why we don't use them anymore. Some of the largest aviation accidents throughout history involve a type of blimp or airship. No matter how much work was put into design or safety features, blimp accidents were common enough and serious enough to prevent them from becoming a routine part of air travel or military activity.

Below is a list of the worst blimp disasters throughout history. Looking at the list, it's easy to understand why we no longer utilize blimps as a mode of transportation. From the well-known Hindenburg explosion to the USS Akron tragedy, read on to discover the most tragic blimp disasters of all time. 

Hindenburg disaster is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The 17 Most Tragic Blimp Disasters In History
Photo: Gus Pasquerella/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

You can't have an article about blimp disasters without mentioning possibly the most widely known airship accident - 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, causing the blimp to go up in flames.

All told, 36 people lost their lives (35 passengers and 1 ground crew member) and 62 survived. Despite 30 years of tens of thousands of passengers traveling millions of miles on commercial zeppelins with no injuries, the horrific Hindenburg disaster put an end to passenger airship travel. 

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

The Hindenburg is the most recognizable name in the annals of airship disasters, although 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. The ultimate tragedy was that many of 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 too low for the poor weather conditions of the day, and it's possible that the navigators unknowingly drove it into the ocean. Despite being a Navy vessel, the Akron had no life jackets and only one raft. Most of the men who lost their lives drowned or died of hypothermia. In addition, one of the airships that went looking for survivors crashed, claiming the lives of two more men. 

The Experimental Zeppelin LZ 4 Explodes During A 24-Hour Test Flight
The Experimental Zeppeli... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The 17 Most Tragic Blimp Disasters In History
Photo: Unknown/Wikipedia/Public Domain

Were it not for stubborn and risk-laden 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, the LZ 4 made an emergency landing on August 5, 1908, in a field. A sudden storm blew the blimp from its temporary mooring, causing it to crash and to massively explode. That could have been the end of airship development, but the German people continued to support the development of airships, bringing in enough donations to make sure the air program maintained its funding. 

The Helgoland Island Air Disaster
The Helgoland Island Air... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The 17 Most Tragic Blimp Disasters In History
Photo: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/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, the airship 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. Fourteen of its passengers drowned to death. The incident became known as the "Helgoland Island Air Disaster."