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.
Pieces Of Mail That Survived The Disaster Are Very Valuable TodayPhoto: PD-GERMAN EMPIRE STAMPS / Wikimedia Commons
One of the functions of a Zeppelin at the time was its use in delivering airmail service across the Atlantic. On its fateful last voyage, the Hindenburg was carrying an estimated 17,000 pieces of mail. Most of it was destroyed, but 176 pieces survived because they were stored in a protective container. While they were charred from the fire, they were still readable. The mail was postmarked four days after the airship was destroyed and is highly valuable among modern collectors.
The Airship Was Almost Named For Adolf HitlerPhoto: German Federal Archives / Wikimedia Commons
Paul Joseph Goebbels, the Reich Minister of Propaganda of Nazi Germany and a close associate of Adolf Hitler, wanted the airship to be named after the Führer. Dr. Hugo Eckener, the head of the Zeppelin company, was anti-Nazi and instead named the airship for late German president Paul von Hindenburg.
Hitler wasn't exactly enamored with airships to begin with and after the crash was likely especially grateful not to have shared a name with the doomed vehicle.
The Fire Consumed The Ship In Less Than A MinuteVideo: YouTube
The Hindenburg was destroyed in less than one minute. By some accounts, it took just 32 seconds for the airship to catch fire and crash to the ground. The Hindenburg’s commander, Captain Max Pruss, delayed the landing in order to wait out a storm. Landing ropes were dropped when the ship was approximately 180 feet from the ground. Most witnesses saw the first flames at 7:25 p.m. and the fire spread quickly over the next minute, consuming the airship.
Surprisingly, Most Of The Casualties Were Not Burn VictimsPhoto: Wide World Photos / Wikimedia Commons
The hydrogen on the Hindenburg burned quickly but safely above the passengers as they flew. This flammable gas is what kept the ship afloat. Once the skin of the airship was on fire - for whatever reason - it quickly ignited the gas. Surprisingly, despite the fiery spectacle the disaster was, only two people actually died from being burnt to death. These two passengers were likely close to the proximity of the fire's origin.