When the Hindenburg burst into flames over Lakehurst, N.J., on May 6, 1937, so did the dreams of large-scale air travel by dirigible. A recent article in the UK Guardian called the Hindenburg “the Concorde of its day – able to cross the Atlantic in about three days, twice as fast as going by sea.”
Since then, the Hindenburg has become nearly as famous as the Titanic, in part because of the mystery that surrounds the cause of the fire and also because of the pictures and movie clips that exist of the disaster. People are still curious about it even 76 years later. My 11-year-old was even talking to me about it recently.
Now a group of researchers have said that they know how the Hindenburg caught fire. Jem Stansfield, a British aeronautical engineer at the South West Research Institute, led a team that used scale models of the Hindenburg that were more than 24 meters long to explore the theories of the Hindenburg’s fire. The researcher looked at all of the theories from a terrorist bomb to the paint on the Hindenburg having explosive properties.
The researchers also examined in great detail eyewitness accounts, photographs and archive footage of the Hindenburg fire.
The official investigation after the 1937 fire was that a spark ignited leaking hydrogen gas. However, no conclusions could be reached on what caused the spark or the leaking gas. The researchers concluded that the blimp became electrically charged with static because of an electrical storm.
“A broken wire or sticking gas valve leaked hydrogen into the ventilation shafts, and when ground crew members ran to take the landing ropes they effectively ‘earthed’ the airship,” the Guardian reported.
The fire began in the tail of the blimp and ignited the hydrogen, which consumed the Hindenburg until it crashed to the ground. It had nearly 100 passengers aboard and 35 of them died either from the fire or the crash.
Here’s the article in the Guardian.