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The 17 Most Tragic Blimp Disasters In History

Updated February 12, 2020 17.3k views17 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. 

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  • The Johannisthal Air Disaster

    Photo: German Federal Archives / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    A little over a month after the Helgoland Island Air Disaster, another accident befell the German Navy - the Johannisthal Air Disaster. Despite its recent history with airship disasters, the German Navy forged full steam ahead with its airship program. 

    A new blimp, designated the L-2, was the second Zeppelin bought by the Imperial German Navy. On October 17, 1913, a test flight went horribly wrong when escaped hydrogen was sucked into an engine compartment, causing a massive explosion. All 28 people aboard the ship were killed. This disaster came so soon after the Helgoland accident that it caused the Navy to suspend its plans to expand its airship program.

  • The LZ 104 Blows Up Near Malta After An Unsuccessful Trip To Africa

    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    German Navy Zeppelin LZ 104 (nicknamed "The Africa Ship") was famous for attempting a long-distance resupply mission across the Mediterranean, over Allied-held African lands, and into German East Africa (what is now Rwanda, Burundi, and Tanzania). Because there was no hydrogen in German East Africa to refuel the airship, it would be dismantled and reused in various ways upon landing. The LZ 104 (military designation L-59) made it as far as Sudan before it was ordered to turn around, because Germans could find no suitable landing site for it in their African territory. 

    After traveling more than 4,000 miles in almost 100 hours, the airship landed in Yambol, Bulgaria, where Germany had established a base from which the airships could fly to German East Africa. There, the airship remained for use as a long-range bomber to hit various Allied points in the Mediterranean. Eventually, it was decided that it should be used to attack the British Naval Base on Malta. On April 7, 1918, the blimp exploded midair while en route to Malta, killing all 21 people on board. 

  • British R38 Goes Down Over Hull

    Photo: US Navy / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The crash of the British R38 was the first post-WWI airship disaster. The original goal of the British airship program was to produce better, faster vehicles than German Zeppelins, and maybe it was such determination that led to tragedy. On August 23, 1921, the R38 was en route to Norfolk from its home base of Howden. Poor visibility caused an early landing and forced the R38 to head back to Howden the next day.

    So, the trip wasn't entirely wasted, it was decided that the R38 should perform some trials and maneuvers on the way back to Howden. However, the exercises exceeded the capabilities of the airship. While doing a maneuver over the town of Hull, the ship broke in half. The front half exploded while the back half plummeted into a river below. Of the 49 people on board, 44 died in the accident. 

  • The LZ-40 Is Struck By Lightning

    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Although the LZ-40 was a pivotal component in German raids against Britain in the first World War, nothing could protect the airship from the forces of nature.

    In September 1915, lightning struck an airship over the North Sea, forcing it to crash land. All 19 people on board died.