“Oh, oh, oh. It’s burst into flames. Get out of the way, please . . . this is terrible . . . it’s burning, bursting into flames, and is falling . . . Oh! This is one of the worst . . . it’s a terrific sight . . .oh, the humanity.”
WLS radio, announcer Herbert Morrison
On May 6, 1937, the German airship Hindenburg, the largest dirigible ever built, explodes as it arrives in Lakehurst, New Jersey. Thirty-six people died in the fiery accident that has since become iconic, in part because of the live radio broadcast of the disaster.
A dirigible built to be the fastest, larget and most luxurious flying vessel of its time.
Here are some facts:
- More than 800 feet long
- A range of 8,000 miles
- Could carry 97 passengers
- Had a state-of-the-art Mercedes-Benz engine
- Filled with 7 million cubic feet of hydrogen, even though helium was known to be far safer, because it made the flying ship more maneuverable.
The Nazi’s symbol of national pride, the Hindenburg had made 10 successful ocean crossings the year before. Flying at a speed of 85 miles per hour, the Hindenburg was scheduled to arrive in New Jersey at 5 a.m. on May 6. Weather conditions pushed the arrival back to the late afternoon and then rain further delayed the docking at Lakehurst.
When the dirigible was finally cleared to dock, Captain Max Pruss brought the ship in too fast and had to order a reverse engine thrust. At 7:20 p.m., a gas leak was noticed. Within minutes, the tail blew up, sending flames hundreds of feet in the air and as far down as the ground below. A chain reaction caused the entire vessel to burn instantly. The nearly 1,000 spectators awaiting the Hindenburg‘s arrival felt the heat from a mile away. Some on the blimp attempted to jump for the landing cables at the docking station but most died when they missed. Others waited to jump until the blimp was closer to the ground as it fell. Those who were not critically injured from burns often suffered broken bones from the jump. Fifty-six people managed to survive.