On May 6, 1937, the German passenger airship LZ 129 Hindenburg, a type of rigid aircraft known as a Zeppelin, was making its final approach to Manchester Township, New Jersey, when it caught fire and crash landed. In total, 35 of the 97 people on board died in the disaster along with one ground crewman.
Once ignited, the ship crashed quickly, with some reporting the entire incident took as little as 32 seconds from the first sign of distress to the airship hitting the ground. The disaster captured the public's attention thanks to the eyewitness testimony of a reporter who was present and the fascinating and disturbing footage filmed during the disaster.
There have been many theories about what went wrong during the fateful flight of the Hindenburg. The fire could have been caused by lightning, static electricity, or may have been an act of anti-Nazi sabotage. Despite an airship's ability to travel over the ocean in considerably less time than an ocean liner, all airship travel ceased after the explosion.
This fiery historical disaster continues to intrigue those who see the jarring imagery captured during its final moments. But history has revealed more around this crazy moment in time not captured in photographs. Here are a few of the fascinating details.
The airship had 97 passengers and crew members on board when it burst into flames, but less than half were killed in the disaster. Thirteen passengers, 22 crew members, and one worker on the ground perished. One of the more gory details of the incident was that passengers were forced to jump in an effort to save themselves.
People remember the Hindenburg disaster because of both the famous film footage that was shot when it occurred and because of the eyewitness report by Herbert Morrison - who muttered the now famous line, "Oh, the humanity!"
However, this wasn't the first or most deadly airship crash on record at the time. In 1933, the U.S. Navy airship USS Akron got caught up in a major storm and crashed off the coast of New Jersey. In that disaster, only three passengers survived and 73 died. Additionally, in 1930, the British military airship R101 crashed resulting in 48 lives lost.
In 1936, the Hindenburg made its first public flight alongside other ships to gain support for a referendum ratifying the reoccupation of the Rhineland. Loudspeakers on the airship blared patriotic music and pro-Hitler propaganda. The airship also dropped leaflets and swastika flags on cities in Germany. Notably, the airship itself was adorned with swastikas on its tail fins.
The Hindenburg was filled with seven million cubic feet of hydrogen gas, but that didn't stop the ship's designers from including a smoking lounge on board. Passengers were banned from bringing their own matches and lighters on the ship but they could buy cigarettes and Cuban cigars once aboard.
Smokers had to use a special pressurized room that prevented hydrogen from coming inside. A steward escorted people into the room to make sure they were abiding by safety protocol and no cigars, cigarettes, or pipes were allowed out of the room still lit.