On the 6th May 1937, the German passenger airship LZ 129 Hindenburg experienced a mid-air explosion at Lakehurst, New Jersey and was engulfed in flames in just 32 seconds.
At the time, the Hindenburg was the fastest and most luxurious way to cross the Atlantic. It had already completed 63 flights from its base in Germany to a range of destinations including Rio de Janeiro. It had also been used as a propaganda tool to support Hitler’s remilitarisation of the Rhineland in 1936, and flew over the Berlin Olympics later that year.
The Hindenburg began its maiden trans-Atlantic flight exactly one year before the disaster, on 6th May 1936. By the end of the year it had crossed the Atlantic 34 times, transporting 3,500 passengers and 30,000kg of mail. It was, therefore, a proven and reliable form of transport – if you could afford a ticket!
When the Hindenburg arrived at Lakehurst on 6th May 1937, Captain Max Pruss delayed landing due to poor weather conditions. Three hours later he carried out a swift landing to take advantage of an improvement in the weather. The landing ropes were dropped at 7.21pm, and shortly afterwards the Hindenburg was engulfed by flames.
The most widely accepted explanation for the fire is that the airship was statically charged as a result of flying through the storm, and the landing ropes ‘earthed’ the airship, resulting in a spark. However, the biggest single cause of the fire is simple: the Hindenburg contained 7 million cubic feet of explosive hydrogen gas.