Anniversary Post: LZ 129 Hindenburg Disaster

Hindenburg DisasterOn this day in 1937, LZ 129 Hindenburg caught fire and was destroyed while attempting to land in New Jersey. What’s perhaps most amazing about the whole thing is that only 35 of the 97 people on board died. Look at the video below. It’s hard to believe that anyone (besides Robert Clary) had survived.

I’ve always assumed that the Hindenburg disaster was just waiting to happen. After all, the Germans had used hydrogen instead of helium for it. And hydrogen is just ridiculously explosive. But I learned that this was not a decision they made willingly. Helium was extremely expensive — when you could get it. And mostly, you couldn’t get it, because the United States was about the only country that produced it (it comes from natural gas mining, if you care to capture it). The US refused to export it. And given that construction of the Hindenburg was started in 1931, this probably had nothing to do with Hitler and the Nazis.

Before I always thought that the designers of the Hindenburg were at fault. But now I don’t. In fact, they took great precautions to make the ship as safe as possible. And that brings up the other amazing thing about this disaster: we don’t know what the cause was.

At the time, most people thought it was sabotage. There is even a theory that Hitler called for the Hindenburg to be destroyed because the great old man of Luftschiffbau Zeppelin (builder of the Hindenburg), Hugo Eckener, was an outspoken critic of the Nazis. It seems a bit indirect to me.

I tend to think that it was just an accident. Hugo Eckener thought it was a spark from built up static electricity. One of the crew members suggests that the landing maneuver caused sparks. But there are lots of other theories. In fact, this is one of the cases that is just going to get more confusing as time goes on.

13 thoughts on “Anniversary Post: LZ 129 Hindenburg Disaster

  1. Going to have to check further into how the people got off that gondola…So according to Wikipedia, the gondola was close enough to the ground for a bunch of the people who survived to manage to jump out and run away before the flames got to them. Others just survived the burns. And in one case, the water tanks burst on the kid so he was saved by the fact he was soaked.

    But really, everyone knows it was the people from Time Chasers who caused this.

    • The Robert Clary guy broke the window with his motion picture camera and jumped. He apparently broke his leg. It’s much more cool in the movie.

      Certainly a big part of this relatively happy ending is that it was landing, so that a lot of people could jump.

        • Yeah, I think most of them were people already on the ground though. In fact, one person on the ground did die.

    • What an odd and wonderful site! I loved reading about the special lightweight piano. And what happened when they ran out of gin.

      It sounds like travel on the airship was far more human than air travel today (if much slower.) Which made me think of Amtrak. And that made me think of John Bloom’s wonderful list of why Amtrak is better than airplanes:

      1. Everyone on an airplane is in a bad mood. Everyone on the train is in a good mood. There is no such thing as “rail rage.”
      2. Leg room. Everywhere. All the time.
      3. Remarkably decent food, cooked on board, eaten with silver, on white linen tablecloths.
      4. An airplane that’s an hour late is a tragedy. A train that’s an hour late is a pleasant surprise. Rail trips have a way of slowing you down, even on those rare occasions when they are on time, and you discover you didn’t really have to be there as quickly as you thought you did.
      5. Amtrak’s deluxe bedrooms, with the berths set up across the whole width of the car so that you don’t get that side-to- side motion while you’re sleeping, are better than anything offered in Europe.
      6. Ventilated smoking lounges that don’t bother the non- smokers. Amtrak doesn’t want you to suffer.
      7. Nobody cares about the size of your carry-on luggage.
      8. 3 a.m. poker games.
      9. An Amtrak train makes for a terrible weapon of terrorism. You can’t drive it into a building. There’s no way to get from the first passenger car to the locomotive. Even the worst derailment of the longest Amtrak train will kill fewer people than one short-hop domestic flight. But you can’t derail it anyway, because it’s never on time.

      • I wish I had the kind of mind that could do that kind of site. Even with Don Quixote, I don’t think I could write about it consistently for years on end. But it takes different kinds of people to make the world interesting.

        My feeling on air travel is that the problems are the incredible noise and the air pressure. Trains can be loud at times, but there isn’t that constant background noise. And obviously, there is no problem with air pressure. Also, as you note, you can better walk around. But also, the seats are much better. Trains have it all over airplanes.

          • I’m sure you could (I know for a fact there’s a station in Oakland, I’ve been there) but the Amtrak website is as poorly designed as Amtrak is underfunded, so it presents no options from “Arizona.”

            A good website would give you further options to explore as in “where in Arizona” and links to different transit methods you could use to get from your location to the train station.

            (Lest anyone think I’m deriding gummint-supported transport, most metro bus systems have terrific websites. I know mine does. But Amtrak’s sucks. They have no money.)

            If you figure out a time you’re visiting the Bay you might just go to an Amtrak office and ask them to work it out for you, or call them on the phone.

          • I’ve taken the train down to LA, and half of the time was spent on buses. It really sucks. But it shouldn’t much longer. I don’t mind buses, however; I just mind transfers.

    • That’s cool. I did know how nice it was based on the movie. But the bedroom was particularly interesting.

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