85 years ago... (5-6-37)

The Pittsburgh Press (May 7, 1937)

HINDENBURG EXPLODES, 32 DIE
First clues point to spark as cause of disaster in air

Eyewitnesses, survivors tell of seeing flaming ship fall to earth; guns guard wreckage as investigations begin
By Everett Holles

Proud German queen of skies falls in flames while attempting to land at Lakehurst

140831Hindenburg
This remarkable photograph was taken an instant after the German dirigible Hindenburg, aflame and crumbling, dove toward the earth at Lakehurst, New Jersey, last night, carrying almost two score prisoners – passengers and crew members – to death. By sheer luck or quick thinking, many of the more than 100 persons aboard survived. Some jumped from the airship’s cabins, or were driven out.

William Springfield, an ACME Newspictures photographer, was on the scene to take a picture of the Zep landing. After his first “shot” at the giant ship, he trained his lens on the incoming monster of the air, just in time to catch the photograph shown above. The actual flames are seen on the right while the dark part of the picture is smoke. (ACME)

Lakehurst, New Jersey –
Germany’s mighty Hindenburg Zeppelin, superdreadnought of the sky, crashed in flames at the U.S. Naval Air Station here last night, just as she reached journey’s end after a successful Atlantic crossing.

To 32 persons – 12 passengers, 19 members of the crew and one ground helper – journey’s end was death. Most of the victims were burned to death. Only their skeletons, virtually unidentifiable, were left by the white-hot flame of burning hydrogen.

Sixty-four persons lived through the disaster, aided by luck or quick thinking. Some of these were so gravely burned or otherwise injured they may die. Two of the injured – Irene Doehner of Mexico City and Allen Hagaman, a member of the dirigible’s ground crew – died early today.

Cause of disaster may never be known

The cause of the disaster was undetermined. It may never be established definitely, but experts, examining the still-white-hot wreckage of the largest Zeppelin ever built, said she had probably been brought to her doom by a spark of electricity, either from one of the four diesel engines, or from accumulated atmospheric static electricity, set off when the ship’s soggy landing ropes touched the ground.

This latter theory coincides with that advanced by Maj. Al Williams in an article written last night exclusively for the Pittsburgh Press.

While dirigible men in Germany talked stubbornly of yet larger and faster dirigibles that someday would dominate the ocean airways, and while dirigible men in Washington predicted that the Hindenburg disaster means the end of lighter-than-air transportation, the full story of the catastrophe was old by the burned and broken men and women who lived through it.

Edward Giles, a member of the Hindenburg’s ground crew, gave a graphic description of what happened aboard the stricken airship as he saw it.

Shrieks heard above roar of flames

He said:

We had just been given the order to “slack off” the port lead rope as the Hindenburg settled gently down to earth. I saw flame on the top of the ship and an instant later there was a blinding, white-hot blast. Before I had time to run, the Hindenburg lay smashed and flaming on the ground.

The shrieks from inside the wreckage rose above the roar of burning fabric, which burned like a paper balloon. There was nothing we could do. We were helpless against the flames that seared our faces.

Some of the passengers jumped from the cabin windows after the first explosion. Others were blown through the sides of the ship.

I saw a man emerge from the wreckage; every bit of clothing burned from his body. Shreds of flesh hung from his face. He walked 10 or 20 feet, so numbed and dazed he didn’t seem to feel the red-hot debris through which he staggered.

He staggered into the arms of a man only a few feet ahead of me.

A gay arrival – until flames were seen

I am a member of the volunteer ground crew at Lakehurst Naval Station and every time the Hindenburg has arrived, I have been there to help haul her into mooring.

There were 150 of us on hand last night and back near the hangar were 2,000 or more onlookers. I and my friend, Thomas Vernon, were on the main lead and port lead ropes.

It was a gay arrival. Passengers were leaning from cabin windows waving handkerchiefs, and the Hindenburg’s officers megaphoned orders to the ground crew from the control cabin.

We were about to moor the ship to the 200-foot main mast. The tail had been made secure to a ground car operating on a circular railroad track – that is so the tail can shift with the wind – and we were slacking off rope to nose the ship into the big mast.

Then it seemed that we all noticed the flames at once.

An explosion quickly followed. It scattered fabric and bits of metal all over the district. Several more explosions, less severe, followed the first like small bursting firecrackers. They were more puffs of flames than anything else.

The rear of the Hindenburg was in flames in an instant, then the midsection and then the entire ship as it blazed to the ground.

It all must have happened in less than three or four minutes.

The proud flagship of the German Zeppelin service – and one of the three dirigibles remaining after a long series of dirigible disasters since the World War – was on her first commercial flight of the season across the North Atlantic.

She was preparing to land at the end of her voyage. She had thrown out her landing ropes. Her passengers were watching the waiting ground crew.

Suddenly flames ran along the outside of her after quarters, at the top. There was an almost soundless explosion – more like a tremendous vibration – that shook the countryside. This was followed by a series of lesser explosions.

Then, shooting up a great column of flame and smoke, the Hindenburg crashed to earth.

The injured were taken to Paul Kimball Hospital at Lakewood. Three were in critical condition, including Capt. Max Pruss, who was in command of the Hindenburg. He may not live.

The news of the tragedy flashed around the world.

Chancellor Adolf Hitler, dictator of Germany who, with other leaders of the Nazi regime whose swastika emblem rode proudly on the Hindenburg’s rudders, regarded the ship as a symbol of the greatness of Germany, was awakened from his sleep to be told of the disaster.

Roosevelt gets news

On his fishing yacht off the coast of Texas, the word was flashed to President Roosevelt, who immediately cabled to Hitler the sympathy of the American people.

News of the tragedy also went to Dr. Hugo Eckener, head of the Zeppelin Company, at Vienna, Austria. Dr. Eckener is the greatest living authority on lighter-than-air craft, the man whose flights have made his name synonymous with dirigibles.

He was stunned for an instant, and then said dirigibles would come back from this disaster and justify his faith and work. He will probably come to America to investigate personally, he said. He indicated a belief that the disaster might have been caused by sabotage. He announced that all future Zeppelins would use non-inflammable helium instead of the highly-combustible hydrogen.

In Lakehurst, officials and experts were assembling for the inevitable investigation. It was likely that a Naval Board of Inquiry would be called, particularly since the disaster occurred on a naval reservation.

Luther flied to scene

Hans Luther, the little, white-haired German Ambassador, flew here from Washington to perform what will probably be his last important task for his country in the United States – he is soon to retire.

Chairman Royal S. Copeland, of the Senate Commerce Committee, sent Col. Harold E. Hartney, an aviation expert, here from Washington to begin a preliminary investigation.

Maj. R. W. Schroeder, Assistant Director of the Bureau of Air Commerce, arrived this morning. The Department of Commerce also ordered Fred D. Fagg here from New York. Chairman Morris Sheppard, of the Senate Military Affairs Committee, said his committee would consider a Congressional investigation of the tragedy.

Rosendahl reports

All these experts hoped the Hindenburg’s end would contribute invaluable information to make future dirigibles proof against accident.

Cdr. Rosendahl early today made this report to his superiors in Washington:

The airship Hindenburg is a total loss from a hydrogen fire originating at or near the stern of the ship and in the ship, during the landing operations at the Naval Air Station, Lakehurst, about 7:25 p.m. Thursday ET, March 6, 1937. The landing was being conducted in the normal manner. The ship’s manila tail ropes had been dropped to the ground from an altitude of about 200 feet and there connected to corresponding ground ropes used in landing the ship.

About four minutes after the ropes had been dropped, a fire appeared in the alter part of the ship, and worked progressively forward. The ship settled to the ground tail first, and was practically completely ablaze for her entire length by the time the ground was reached.

Won’t ‘hazard a guess’

It is entirely too early to hazard any guess as to the origin of the fire which destroyed the ship. The cause of the fire and of the consequent loss of the ship will, of course, have to be determined by the investigating bodies.

Cdr. Rosendahl explained to his superiors that there had been no damage to naval property and that:

It was not believed that there were other than minor injuries to any Navy personnel.

He urged the public to stay way from the reservation, which had been closed and was being patrolled by soldiers. A member of the Navy ground crew died after the report had been filed.

In Washington, the embattled little group in Congress and the Navy Department who have maintained their faith in dirigibles despite the Macon, the Akron and the Shenandoah disasters, acknowledged that their hopes that America would again build dirigibles for military purposes had died in the wreckage of the Hindenburg.

Ninth since World War

The great ship and her older and more famous sister, the Graf Zeppelin, which makes regular commercial runs to South America, had been the chief supports of their arguments that dirigibles were safe, were militarily effective, and that this country had not given them sufficient trial.

The Hindenburg was the ninth dirigible to meet disaster since the World War, when many German Zeppelins, during bombing raids on London and Paris, were either shot down or lost in storms. The toll was not the largest, for 73, including RAdm. William Moffett, died when the Akron went down in 1933. But it was the first to occur close to the earth, in full view of hundreds of spectators.

Left Frankfurt Tuesday

The Hindenburg left Frankfurt, Germany, Tuesday on the first of this season’s flights to the United States. Last summer, she had cruised back and forth over the North Atlantic, carrying hundreds of passengers, without the slightest mishap.

This time, off Newfoundland, she encountered headwinds, but that was not alarming. She came down the New England coast yesterday 12 hours later, however. In midafternoon, she sailed over Manhattan, proud, stable, the queen of the skies. At 6 p.m. ET, she appeared over the Lakehurst Station, her American terminal, where the civilian ground crew was waiting,

Thunderstorm came up

A thunderstorm came up suddenly and, with it, blinding rain. So she soared off to await its end.

At 7 p.m., she again came over the field. It was drizzling. There were occasional forks of lightning.

Around the hangar, several hundred civilians – many sightseers, but among the relatives and friends of the Hindenburg’s passengers – waited joyfully. A crowd was thrilled by the big ship – a silver finger in an ebony sky. She appeared tearfully beautiful as her great bulk settled closer and closer to earth.

The crowd could see the passengers at the windows, waving and shouting; it heard the commands rumbling down from the control cabin through megaphones. Ropes dropped out of her tail. Another rope dropped out of her nose.

200 feet from ground

Now she was 200 feet from the crowd. Suddenly, a shrill scream broke out from among the crowd of onlookers. A woman had seen the first puff of flame appear at the top of the ship toward the rear, then race along toward its nose. For an instant, the silence was so absolute that the rippling of the flames was audible.

Then screams and shouts and hysterical weeping lifted toward the ship which by now was shooting up a great column of flame and smoke.

Then there was a terrific explosion – not loud, but with tremendous concussion and vibration – and for miles around, window panes shook.

Some saved by leaps

People came hurtling out of the ship – some of them blown out, others jumping as the big bulk settled. They fell among the spectators and the ground workers. All were at least injured. Some of them were killed.

Joseph Späh of Douglaston, New York, a survivor, said:

There was no time to think of anything else to do, I just heard the explosion and jumped.

The instinct for self-preservation seized the persons on ground at the same instant.

It looked as though the great mass of flame was falling directly upon them, and they scattered, some shouting in their terror, in all directions.

Then courage returned

Then courage returned to some and they turned back.

Harry Wellbrook, a member of the ground crew, said:

We ran when we saw the ship was on fire. Then when she hit the ground, we want back and tried to drag out some survivors. We got three bodies out. All of them were burned beyond recognition.

The Hindenburg hit the ground, enmassed in flames from one end to the other, with a thud.

Grotesque, piteous figures appear

Grotesque, piteous figures appeared from the flames. There was a man entirely nude, running as though possessed. The sudden, searing flames had burned every stitch from his body.

Another naked man – another and another. There was a man whose hair had been burned off – a woman and a man bleeding profusely from face wounds – a man whose face was raw, whose facial flesh hung in little appendages from tiny strips of flesh.

Then a bleeding figure staggered from the fire. It was clad in a uniform that had been torn and ripped. Its face was begrimed and cut. Its blue eyes stared strangely. It was Capt. Lehman.

He said shakily, addressing no one:

I can’t understand how it happened. I can’t understand how it…

He repeated his statement over and over. He was carried off to the hospital in Lakewood, New Jersey.

They picked up Capt. Pruss from the field. He was badly hurt.

Capt. Anton Wittemann, the third in command of the Zeppelin, was not hurt.

Ambulances were assembled immediately while members of the ground crew pulled as many as they could of the persons still in the wreckage to safety.

Soldiers from Camp Dix arrived. Within a half-hour, the naval reservation was closed and soldiers patrolled its outer limits. Through the night, the rescue work proceeded.

Money box rescued, in vain

Sailors, manning trucks, rumbled back and forth across the field, plunging into the smoke and flame. Civilians inside the enclosure aided them.

Steward Kubis of the Hindenburg ran through the fire until he got to the metal box where the ship’s money was carried. When he opened it, the German paper money had been burned to ashes.

Hospitals in all nearby towns were busy, and shortly before midnight, they issued a plea for German interpreters. Many passengers and members of the crew were in critical condition, the hospitals reported, and were unable to identify themselves because they could not speak English.

Murray Becker, a photographer, said he had his camera up to his eye when the explosion occurred. He said:

The explosion seemed to be in the center. Everything was in flames. In a second, there wasn’t much left except skeletons. I saw a man being assisted by two other men. He didn’t have any clothes on.

Walter Galliford, 14, said he was 200 yards away from the ship when it exploded. He said:

The first explosion occurred aft. Then almost at the same time there was another explosion. The center of the ship burst into flames. The stern hit the ground with a crash. It all happened in only a few seconds. I don’t see how anyone escaped. The heat was terrific where I was standing. I had to run as fast as I could.

Saw ‘spurt of flame’

Alfred Snook, another eyewitness, gave this account of the disaster:

I drove up to the air station about 10 minutes before the explosion. I was sitting in my auto, which was parked on the south end of the field, when the airship passed overhead. It was about 700 feet from me.

I got out of my auto and walked toward the airship. I saw a concrete platform and got on that to get a better view.

I saw a spurt of flame from the dirigible. It seemed to come from the rear of the ship.

Then the entire airship became enveloped in flames. The nose of the airship was jerked upward, then the whole flaming hulk plummeted to the ground, where the wreckage was instantly enveloped in dense black smoke.

Harry Thomas, a naval electrician, said:

The heat was terrific. I saw a man pinned in the gondola, screaming. I helped pull the man out and carried him away. It was a German electrician that I met over here last summer. He had a broken leg and burns on his face and body.

Ground crew in trouble

Leroy Comstock Jr., a civilian, said it appeared to him that the ground crew was having trouble with the Hindenburg at the time of the explosion. He said:

As the ship burst into flames, the ground crew abandoned ropes because of the intense heat.

From a hospital bed, 22-year-old Theodor Ritter, mechanic aboard the dirigible, called out in broken English:

Gertrude, Gertrude, Gertrude.

Authorities sent for an interpreter. Herr Ritter, slightly injured, explained that he wanted his sweetheart back home in Schwäbisch Hall, Germany, to know that he had survived. He said:

I was in one of the engine gondolas. There was no indication that anything was wrong.

Sudden flash of flame

We stopped the engine. Suddenly there was a flash of flame. Our gondola was ripped from the ship. When it hit the ground, I picked myself up and ran.

Gill Robb Wilson, New Jersey state director of aviation, said the Hindenburg appeared to be functioning perfectly before the explosion. He said:

As the fire swept forward, the rest of the ship settled. As it did, passengers and crew were either thrown, blown or jumped from parts of the ship in which they were standing. It is a miracle that so many were saved.

Herbert Rau of The Lakewood Daily Times, who was telephoning his office when the explosion occurred, told of the turmoil directly afterwards.

Heard women shriek

Scores of people who had come to Lakehurst to see the Hindenburg’s arrival began to run, some away from the fire, others toward it. Women who had come to Lakehurst to meet friends or relatives arriving on the Hindenburg shrieked.

Then I heard the sounds of ambulance and firetruck sirens as I ran toward the ship. They sped to the scene of the crash, loaded dead and living persons into the vehicles and drove away.

Virtually all the passengers and crew dragged out of the wreckage were a mass of blood and burns.

Right behind me was a detachment of Marines. Alongside of me passed private autos coming from the mast, with horns blaring. The mast is a quarter of a mile from the hangar.

Flames were burning only in the center of the ship.

Mass of twisted wreckage

Both the nose and the tail were masses of twisted wreckage. Shiny duraluminum girders looked like black sticks.

Persons whose clothes were so badly burned that it was impossible to determine whether they were passengers or members of the dirigible crew or the ground crew, were being loaded into autos and trucks and carried away. It was impossible to tell whether they were dead or alive.

Screeching women, men wearing Zeppelin Company official bands, with tears running down their faces, were hurrying toward the wreckage.

Harry J. King, baggageman at Lakehurst Air Station, gave the following account:

I was standing next to a baggage truck when the Hindenburg blew up. It was about 200 feet off the ground, and 200 feet from the mooring mast, when suddenly the tail of the ship burst into flame.

There was a low combustion explosion. Then a bigger one, and I was knocked against my truck.

One man jumped out of one of the gondolas of the airship, he broke his leg when he struck the ground and lay there twisting on the ground until the field man ran up and carried him away.

One woman was blown right through the cabin. She landed near me – alive.

An old man came running up, yelling for his family. His coat and his hair were burning. I ripped off his coat and then rubbed his hair in dirt until I put out the fire.

I saw them take out 11 bodies and two dead dogs.

There were 340 pounds of freight and 240 pounds of mail aboard the dirigible, in addition to a ton of baggage, he said.

Blames engines or static

Harry A. Bruno, press relations representative of the American Zeppelin Transport Company, said:

Storm conditions were prevailing about the field and there was some lighting and static. In my opinion, there were one or two causes of the disaster. One of the causes may have been a static spark that flew up one of the two landing ropes at the time when the ship was possibly valving gasoline.

The second is that both rear engines were throttled down and the explosion may have been caused by a flying spark.

I was standing directly under the nose of the ship with William von Meister, vice president of the Zeppelin Company.

The nose of the ship was about 75 feet in the air and the tail was about 85 or 90 feet in the air.

Under tail flippers

Suddenly there was a terrific explosion under the tail flippers. Several passengers were leaning out of the cabin windows as the ground crew was preparing to dock the ship. The flames shot through the ship in a moment.

I saw two passengers hurled out of the window to the ground.

Von Meister and myself turned and ran as fast as we could to get out from under the big hulk that was enveloped in flame and was descending on us.

The ship struck the ground with a terrible crash and with many loud explosions.

We ran about 200 feet from the ship. Then we started back toward it.

Today, the investigations were beginning. Experts united to trace back to its origin the tiny yellow spark that set off the flash of flame which destroyed the Hindenburg.

The flare of fire from the ship was almost like a tragic laboratory experiment before the eyes of men trained for years in airship problems; men such as Cdr. Rosendahl, who watched from the landing field, and Capt. Lehman, who was in the control cabin.

These men – seeking all their lives the mystery of airship disasters – saw the “perfect” dirigible destroyed. They agreed, so far as they have reached a decision, that somewhere an electric spark flashed through a mixture of hydrogen and air, touching off the explosion.

That instantaneous explosion resulted because the Hindenburg was filled with hydrogen, which is one of the most explosive gases known when mixed with air, as it would be if there were any leak in the gas bags or if any gas accumulated in the ship when the gas valves were opened for landing.

Helium, which was used in U.S. airships but is not available outside of the United States, will not explode, but it is heavier than hydrogen and makes a ship more difficult to maneuver.

Whether the spark leaped from a motor, shot out of an exhaust as the ship swung slightly sidewise or was the result of a heavy accumulation of static that touched off the explosion as the soggy landing ropes touched the field, they could not definitely say.

All-night conferences

It was the answer to that mystery that was sought in conferences among German and American officials, aviation experts and those who had seen or lived through the disaster.

Probably never before had trained experts had such an opportunity to view the destruction of a great airship at such close range from both inside and outside, and live. For that reason, informal investigation and conferences started at once, with the prospect later of a Navy Board of Inquiry being summoned.

Still another phase of the inquiry began with the arrival from Washington of Fred Fagg Jr., who was facing one of his first big jobs since his appointment as head of the Bureau of Air Commerce.

Dozen varied stories

Into the hands of these investigators went the stories of the crash as seen by different spectators or victims from every angle. Pieced together, these stories showed that the Hindenburg came in from a rainy sky, circled once and then loafed away.

When she came back later, some observers believed the Hindenburg was moving a little more rapidly than usual, but apparently her speed was not sufficient to cause general comment.

An order was shouted in German from the bridge. Over came the landing ropes and down against the wet ground went the trailing rope intended to drain the big ship of any accumulation of static – a routine procedure.

Trailing ropes seized

The landing crew seized the trailing ropes and pulled her toward the mooring mast mounted on a small railroad track.

A moment later, the first flicker of flame was seen. She was almost instantly in flames, that burst upward through her interior, and then enveloped her.

The disaster occurred almost a year to the day from the time the Hindenburg first landed on American soil – May 9, 1936. Today sentries, with ready rifles, encircled the heap of metal, keeping everyone 30 feet away.

Sun shines grudgingly

Now and then, one of the German searchers – dressed in white stewards’ jackets – paused to pick up some bit from the wreckage, perhaps a reminder of someone cremated there.

The sun shone grudgingly on the twisted framework, hazing the green, blue, black and silver of the Zeppelin’s skeleton, colors painted by fire and chemicals on the once-silver duralumin.

Along the east side of the wreck, toward Lakehurst Naval Station’s big Zeppelin’s hangar that stands 800 yards away, lay two of the Hindenburg’s motors. As large as a one-car garage, they were buried in the soft ground. Their propeller blades were red splinters.

Cotton fails to burn

Overhead, like the webbing of some giant spider, wires and shredded silver fabric were entangled.

Cotton padding, designed to keep a motor from tearing through the paper-thin sides of the Zeppelin in event of its tearing loose, hung grotesquely alongside the fallen motor gondolas. In some unexplained manner, it had not burned.

The windows of the salons and passengers’ promenades, made of a cellulose substance, had melted and hung from the Hindenburg’s ribs like silver tinsel.

Return trip fuel ready

At the snub nose of the Hindenburg – only 200 yards from the Lakehurst mooring mast that she never reached – the heavy mooring cone of steel appeared undamaged, a wire cable dangling limply.

The tail of the ship, where the fire started, was a burned, unrecognizable mass.

Near Lakehurst Station’s administration building, a loaded tank car stood on a sidetrack. On its side was plastered a sign:

Fuel for the Hindenburg on her home voyage.

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Brevity is the scroll of Witt

Lakewood, New Jersey –
Hans Hugo Witt, a passenger on the Hindenburg, sent a two-word message to his wife in Prussia today. It said: “I well.

Disaster robs ten of Coronation trip

Fifty booked for return flight of Hindenburg

New York (UP) –
More than 50 persons, including 10 who were to make a last-minute dash to the Coronation in London, had booked passage on the ill-fated Hindenburg for her return flight to Europe.

Those who wanted to see the Coronation May 12 will not be able to reach London in time now by steamship.

Among those who had booked Hindenburg passage were Mable Link, Elizabeth Eames, Cornelia Frye, W. R. Fawcett, E. C. Cluster, O. L. Homme, Roxie Vesper and Belle Russell, all of Los Angeles; Mrs. W. W. Cunningham and Hugo D. Keil, of San Francisco; Ben E. Smith, prominent Wall St. operator, and Francis Ouimet, of Boston, noted golfer.

I watched the movie The Hindenburg on TCM last night which is a good one. George C. Scott is at the top of a solid cast.

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Zep is third to crash in U.S. since Shenandoah

Ohio disaster 12 years ago was followed by destruction of Akron and Macon in heavy storms
By Henry Ward

The crash of the Hindenburg over Lakehurst, New Jersey, at dusk yesterday was the third major airship disaster in this country since the Shenandoah was torn to pieces near Cambridge, Ohio, in 1925.

The Shenandoah, the Akron and the Macon were American-made, owned and operated and all three crashed during storms. Another “lighter-than-air” ship identified with American aviation is the dirigible Los Angeles, German-built, and now retired by reason of age and service.

As newsmen watched reports come in from Lakehurst last night, they recalled the three other occasions the wires carried stories telling of the disastrous consequences of efforts at dirigible navigation.

Shenandoah torn apart

Shortly after dawn on the morning of Sept. 3, 1925, word was flashed across the nation that the giant dirigible Shenandoah had been torn apart by a line gale and the wreckage scattered about a peaceful Ohio countryside. Fourteen men died. Twenty-six others were saved when they clung to a portion of the big bag that was set adrift when the ship buckled amidships.

A few hours before the Shenandoah, then the pride of the Navy, had soared serenely over Western Pennsylvania on a western cruise from Lakehurst. It did not pass over Pittsburgh, but log books show the ship passed over Uniontown, Washington and Wheeling, West Virginia.

Near Cambridge, the dirigible encountered a severe thunderstorm. A battle with the elements raged for more than an hour. Then suddenly, the huge ship shot upward from an altitude of about 3,000-7,500 feet.

Out of control, the big ship whirled through space, was then twisted like a toy in the hands of a giant until it fell in three parts, the control cabin (suspended beneath the fore section of the ship) was snapped away and plunged earthward carrying with it the crew that had fought vainly to right the ship.

Freed of the cabin, the ship’s nose broke loose and carried seven men for more than 12 miles on a wild balloon ride and landed with only slight injury to the seven. The largest portion of the ship sailed away in another direction with 26 men groping to its side and landed with a crash that shot some of the crew through the sides of the bag.

Early risers in the Ohio farmland that had been awaiting the arrival of the airship rushed to the scattered scenes of the crash. In less than an hour, a waking nation heard of the disaster and shook their heads as they pondered the safeness of air travel.

Undismayed by the fate of the Shenandoah, Navy men maintained their faith in airships with the construction of the gigantic Akron in 1931.

Two years later, with 76 men aboard, the Navy dirigible plunged into the Atlantic Ocean off Barnegat. Of the 76, only three lived to tell of the crash. One of them was Lt. Cdr. Herbert V. Wiley. Among those who went down with the ship was RAdm. William A. Moffett, then Chief of the Bureau of Naval Aeronautics.

On a radio testing trip, the Akron was surrounded by a violent electric storm shortly after midnight of April 3, 1933. She was sailing off Barnegat, apparently riding the storm, when she was suddenly smashed down upon the sea and sank.

‘Stand by for crash’

As the ship dived through lightning-filled clouds, its doom certain, Cdr. Wiley barked the command that has come down through aviation annals:

Stand by for crash.

In a matter of seconds, the crash came. Somehow, Cdr. Wiley and two enlisted men managed to keep afloat and were picked up by a German vessel. Brought ashore, Cdr. Wiley wrote the story of what happened in the terse jargon of a Navy report:

Ship began to shift violently… called all hands… ship commenced to descend… stern inclined downward… dropped ballast… rudder control carried away… descent continued to water… ship demolished by impact… in lightning flash saw many men swimming… wreckage drifted rapidly away… discipline in control car perfect… WILEY…

And so, America read, on April 4, 1933, of another dirigible crash they hoped would be the last.

With the fate of the Akron still fresh in their memories, ground crews in Akron, Ohio, launched another queen of the skies, the Macon, on April 22, 1933.

The Macon was demolished when she crashed into the Pacific Ocean off Point Sur, California, Feb. 12, 1935.

Heroic and effective rescue work by battleships and cruisers from a fleet she was leading has been credited with keeping the crash of the Macon from being another tragedy duplicating the horror of her sister ships.

Called at first a “mysterious casualty” – either a structural defect or explosion – the cause of the crash was later blamed on a gust of wind.

Strangely enough, Cdr. Wiley was also in command of the Macon when she went to her doom. He escaped injury, and earned for himself the title of “Jonah Skipper.”

Doom held sealed

Apparently, the crash of the Macon has sealed the doom of further lighter-than-air building for the Navy.

An air-minded public had almost forgotten the fate of the Shenandoah, the Akron and the Macon in their interest in the Hindenburg. They were beginning to accept her regular transatlantic fights as matter of course. Travelers who shied at air travel by plane looked to the “Zep” as the “safest way to fly.” The nation’s airlines were recognizing the importance of the airship’s schedule by announcing shuttle lines to the Lakehurst line.

Pittsburgh, too, had taken cognizance of the Hindenburg. A few days ago, a sign went up in the lobby of the County Airport administration building reading:

Zeppelin tickets for Germany on sale here.

The sign was removed last night.

Ninth airship accident since World War

New York (UP) –
Destruction of the giant dirigible Hindenburg at Lakehurst, New Jersey, last night marked the ninth major disaster the ninth major disaster to lighter-than-air craft since the World War.

Following is a list of major dirigible disasters:

July 16, 1919 – British dirigible S-11 struck by lightning and fell in North Sea, killing 12.

April 25, 1921 – The ZR-2, largest airship of its time, just purchased by the U.S. government, exploded in mid-air over Hull, England, killing 42.

February 21, 1922 – The Italian airship Roma hit a high-tension wire at Norfolk, Virginia, crashed and exploded, killing 34.

December 31, 1923 – The French airship Dixmude crashed into the sea off the coast of Sicily, killing 52.

September 3, 1925 – The Shenandoah broke in half bucking a storm near Cambridge, Ohio, and crashed, killing 14.

May 25, 1928 – The Italian dirigible Italia, carrying Gen. Roberto Nobile and a party of explorers, crashed on a flight to the North Pole. Gen. Nobile and most of those aboard escaped. Eight died.

October 5, 1930 – The giant British airship R-101 crashed near Beauvais, France, on a flight to India, killing 46.

April 4, 1933 – The U.S. Navy dirigible Akron crashed at sea off the New Jersey coast, near Barnegat Lightship; 73 perished and eight were saved.

February 15, 1935 – The U.S. Navy dirigible Macon crashed into the sea off Point Sur, California; 81 aboard saved.

May 6, 1937 – The dirigible Hindenburg burned at Lakehurst, New Jersey.

Prior to the World War, there were three major dirigible and balloon disasters.

July 2, 1912 – The balloon Akron exploded over Atlantic City, and five persons died.

September 9, 1913 – The Zeppelin L-1 was destroyed off Heligoland; 15 died.

October 17, 1913 – The Zeppelin L-2 exploded over Johannisthal Airfield, Czechoslovakia; 28 were killed.

Akron experts seek cause of death

Lightning theory discounted in city where dirigibles are built

Akron, Ohio –
Akron airship experts pieced together reports of the Hindenburg tragedy today for a scientific explanation of the cause of the explosion that doomed the world’s proudest airship.

Fears that the flash of white flame that consumed Germany’s largest airship had spelled the end of Akron’s lighter-than-air industry were expressed throughout the city.

Akron experts, however, discounted the theory that a lightning or static spark touched off the disaster, and pointed out the tragedy would have been impossible had the big ship been filled with helium, the gas that is used in U.S. airships.

Dr. T. H. Troller, director of the Guggenheim Airship Institute who has directed research into the effect of electrical discharges on airships, said he believed it unlikely that an electrical charge was responsible for the catastrophe.

Dr. Troller said:

One conclusion stands out now. That is that such an accident could not have happened to an Akron-built airship.

Helium always used

Paul W. Litchfield and his associates at Goodyear-Zeppelin always insisted on the use of non-explosive helium for inflating the airships built here.

Dr. Troller thought it was more likely that a match struck carelessly despite all the precaution taken by the ship’s officers and crew, had caused the explosion.

A. O. Austin, electrical engineer, who conducted an exhaustive series of tests on the effect of lightning on airships in collaboration with Ward T. Van Orman, Goodyear balloonist, also scouted the lightning theory.

Immune from lightning

Mr. Austin said:

Our tests demonstrated that airships are practically immune from lightning trouble since the encircling metal skeleton acts much the same as a lightning rod.

It is possible for an airstrip to build up a charge of static electricity, particularly if it has been flying through storm areas in electrically charged clouds. But even then, such a discharge would cause no damage provided the landing cables were properly bonded, that is electrically connected. If properly bonded, the charge would be released at the ground. If not, it would discharge at the point where the cable was connected to the nose of the ship.

In either case only a pocket of escaping gas could cause explosion similar to that which wrecked the Hindenburg.

Like a spark plug

For a static discharge inside of the hull of an airship it would be necessary to have an air gap in the ship’s skeleton, an impossibility, Mr. Austin said.

He said:

Such an air gap would cause a discharge much like that of a spark plug. In a spark plug, put the two points together and there is no discharge.

It seems more likely that the explosion was caused by a match, since the Hindenburg had taken all precautions against the possibility of electrical charges.


Latest news awaited in Friedrichshafen

Friedrichshafen, Germany (UP) –
Townspeople of Friedrichshafen, some of them relatives of members of the crew, gathered at newspaper bulletin boards today to await fresh news of the disaster that overtook the Hindenburg.

Pending a final check, the death list was not published, and families of the men aboard, horror-stricken, were forced to wait hours in hope that their men might be listed as survivors.

Friedrichshafen is the great Zeppelin base and the birthplace of the Hindenburg. When Frankfurt was made the ship’s base, some members of the crew moved there, but others remained.

Maj. Williams: Berates U.S. government’s airship policy

By Maj. Al Williams, USMCR

The Hindenburg disaster may delay American participation in transoceanic dirigible development.

America had just about recovered from the loss of the Navy dirigibles Akron and Macon and intensive efforts were underway to combine the efforts of lighter-than-air advocates in Germany and the United States.

Previous efforts in this country to develop lighter-than-air ships had been assumed by the U.S. Navy. This is an American form of government sponsorship and subsidy for a new industry, by having one of the military departments do the research work necessary to product a sample craft.

If the Akron and Macon had been successfully operated, the naturally-expected development would be that American commercial interests would underwrite the construction of sister ships.

The outstanding success of the Germans in building and operating this type of aircraft has always been an inspiration for dirigible advocates in the United States.

German success cited

Irrespective of what happens to American dirigibles, lighter-than-air enthusiasts in this country have always pointed out that the Germans could fly these ships around the world and over the oceans on scores of successful flights.

It has long been a mystery as to how the Germans managed to operate their dirigibles successfully despite the fact that they have had to depend upon hydrogen for inflation. Hydrogen is one of the most difficult gases to control. It made its appearance early in the history of balloon ascension as an admirable gas for this type of work because of its extreme lightness.

However, it is possessed of the uncomfortable and disastrous propensity for igniting and exploding upon the slightest provocation.

In hangars where hydrogen-inflated balloons or dirigibles are housed all kinds of precautionary measures must be employed to protect them from spark and electrical currents not discernible to the eye – but which we recognize as static electricity.

Hydrogen is so dangerous that even when mixed with air (about 92% hydrogen and 8% air), the resultant mixture is instantaneously explosive without the help of spark or fire.

Unlike any other commercial commodity, hydrogen simply waits for an excuse to explode and carry its surroundings to disaster.

Damp ropes cannot be pulled across the floor of a hangar.

Metal buttons cannot be worn on clothes.

Rubber-soled shoes, free of nails, must be worn by workmen and those who operate hydrogen-inflated balloons.

Smoking is necessarily verboten within 100 yards of buildings where hydrogen bottles and hydrogen-inflated balloons are stored.

First ship they lost

Despite the dangerous characteristics of hydrogen, the Germans have been able to inflate their airships with it and operate them for years without fire or explosion.

The Hindenburg is the first ship they lost from this cause.

They have circled the globe and flown the North and South Atlantic Oceans with such regularity that the departures and arrivals of their giant airships are carried in the routine newspaper sailing notices.

The handling of hydrogen requires 100% control of the human element and this requisite is contrary to the history of human nature.

One thing in a thousand can go wrong and a hydrogen-inflated balloon or dirigible disappears with a puff.

Neither British, French, Italian nor Americans have been able toi operate dirigibles inflated with any gas successfully. It goes without saying that none of these countries could get away with hydrogen-inflated airships, but the Germans have been so successful with airship operation along with the problem of handling hydrogen that the rest of the world has been curious to know what the Germans have that no other nation possesses.

Points to discipline

The answer is simple and free from complexity.

The German temperament is the child of iron discipline.

It accepts regulation and gives religious attention to details and spares neither energy nor considers personal comfort in meeting every last specification for efficiency and safety.

Other factors must be considered in building a complete picture as to why this is the Germans’ first catastrophe compared to the continuous disasters that have befallen American, English, French and Italian airship operations.

Our efforts were headed straight towards trouble from the start.

One of the most poorly-disciplined races on earth, Americans learn regulations and carry out only what appeals to them.

The word verboten to an American is like waving a red flag before a bull – a bull possessed of great ingenuity and brains and inclined to believe he has a better way to do a job.

With the exception of the Roma, an airship built by Italy for the United States, all our lighter-than-air catastrophes are directly traceable to lack of piloting ability.

The deficiency is not traceable to anything lacking in American courage, physical skill or air judgment, but is directly attributable to a fundamental policy of the U.S. Navy, which probably originated in the days of John Paul Jones, of indiscriminately assigning naval officers to all sorts and types of jobs without regard to natural ability of qualifications.

The outstanding example of this ostrich policy is the cast of Lt. Cdr. Charles Rosendahl, assigned as first lieutenant (generally regarded as the janitor of a warship) to a cruiser on sea duty, while far less experienced personnel flew the Akron into the Atlantic and wrecked the Macon in the Pacific.

Cdr. Rosendahl has long been recognized as No. 1 airship pilot in the United States by lighter-than-air experts in this country, and by the Germans who have repeatedly expressed great appreciation of his ability.

A continuation of such policy of rotating naval officers is responsible for the fact that none of the airships built or owned by the United States is in operation today.

It is true the Los Angeles, which was built in Germany, is still in existence in storage in this country but if we take it out of storage without changing that policy it will undoubtedly follow the others to the junkpile.

This is an age of specialization which demands lifelong application to acquire expert status.

The Germans recognized the soundness of permitting its airship operators from the very beginning to regard dirigible operation as a lifetime career that’s what it takes to make expert seamen and German logic applied the same principle to lighter-than-air operation. America didn’t.

But the most pitiable and deplorable feature of America’s failure in the general development of lighter-than-air transportation is a story separate and distinct in itself.

One of lightest gases

Hydrogen is one of the lightest gases which can be produced in commercial quantities. Its manufacture is a simple operation basically dependent upon the combination of sulfuric acid and iron filings with a few simple processes toward refinement and purification that involve elementary chemistry.

It was recognized in the early days of balloon history as an admirable gas for inflating these giant bags. Constant commercial demand for hydrogen simplified its manufacture to the point where it can be obtained on the open market for approximately $3 per 1,000 cubic feet.

But the moment it is pumped into the gas cell of a dirigible, alertness, devotion to duty and iron discipline are the check reins which tend to hold it I to line and force it to serve the purposes of commerce. One single slipup and hydrogen takes charge and destroys its masters.

Lighter-than-air experts quickly recognized the advantages of using hydrogen and just as quickly learned its dangers. They sought a substitute gas. A great many different kinds were known to science but nine could be produced outside the laboratories or in quantities sufficient to supply their needs.

Helium possessed almost all the qualities required for supplying airships with flotation but it was regarded as a laboratory product until the World War when it was discovered in quantity in Kansas and Texas.

The U.S. government, through its Bureau of Mines erected a helium refinery at Fort Worth, later shifting it to Amarillo, Texas. The first attempts to produce it in quantity demonstrated that its cost of manufacture was about $32 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Geologists of other nations searched everywhere for helium deposits with inconsequential success. Concentrated effort upon the part of the U.S. Navy to develop airships resulted in intensive attempts to reduce the manufacturing costs of helium.

Helium is possessed of about 10 or 11% less lifting power than hydrogen, but it neither will burn nor can it be exploded. Years of effort reduced the production cost to $6.12 per 1,000 cubic feet. We filled our dirigibles with it and it was due to the presence of helium in the gas cells of the Macon and Akron that our airship history lacks the horrible fire feature.

The fact that U.S. helium deposits are stored in the petroleum reserve territories owned by the U.S. government has made it a national monopoly. As long as we had dirigibles, the government, according to time-honored policy of safeguarding national assets, restricted its use to domestic purposes.

Geologists say there is enough helium in the United States to supply the needs of the world for an indefinite period.

There is a bill before Congress to permit the sale of helium for medical purposes or for aeronautics to foreign purchasers. But that bill is too late.

The Hindenburg was designed so that its outer gas cells – those closest to the skin of the ship – and hence subject to electric discharge or flame could be inflated with helium while the inner cells were to be dulled with hydrogen. The main purpose of this balance was prompted by the necessity for German economy since helium costs twice as much as hydrogen.

But with all the helium in the world in our country, neither the Germans nor any other nation could purchase it. We have it, we do little with it, and we permit no one else to do anything with it.

Hence the Hindenburg was inflated with hydrogen altogether. Hence, also, the delayed appearance of the present bill before Congress to permit its exportation.

The entire lighter-than-air case for America and Germany can be summed up in the following:

We failed through lack of piloting skill and because of a foggy naval policy against permitting its experts to specialize. The Germans fail in the present instance because they could not purchase helium and were compelled to use the deadly hydrogen, the hazards of which are thoroughly understood and feared. There is a definite embargo against the exportation of helium.

The cause of Hindenburg disaster at the present writing is a matter of conjecture. A factual survey presents a reasonable explanation in that static electricity or as leak in one of the hydrogen gas cells was the reason for the fire and explosion. Evidence to substantiate this conclusion is found in the fact that nothing untoward was noticeable until the Hindenburg landing ropes made contact with the ground.

It is a scientific axiom that everybody is possessed of static potentiality.

This is recognized in the airplane industry to the extent that each part of a plane is connected by a conductor, called “bonding,” which prevents a rudder, tail surface or wing from building up its own store of static and discharging the same in bulk in the form of a spark to adjoining parts.

Necessarily the Hindenburg, floating through the atmosphere, had acquired its own charge of static electricity. And since static electricity is discharged as soon as it comes close enough to another body of different potentiality, it seemed quite reasonable to assume that as soon as its handling lines came in contact with the ground there was an interchange of static electricity. And a single spark is far more than enough to turn hydrogen into a white flame, the intensity of which can melt metal in a few seconds.

There is one other possibility and that is that one of the gas cells might possibly have developed a leak which either became instantaneously combustible upon being mixed with air or had come in contact with the exhaust flames of the airship’s motor.

In an attempt to avoid igniting the hydrogen which gave it buoyancy, the Hindenburg was equipped with diesel engines which operate without electrical ignition.

But even this provision was only a precaution, not an insurance.

The one slipup in a thousand occurred. Human nature challenged infallibility and lost.

And whatever ignited the hydrogen, we know that hydrogen destroyed the Hindenburg. And science learned more from this catastrophe than it has from the majority of airplane accidents.

Structurally man can build safe dirigibles – experts can fly them safely – and with the right kind of gas for buoyancy (helium) – airships will be the ideal transoceanic airliners until airplanes can float without power.

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The Bodensee, / Germany has a cool zeppelin museum and offers airship rides. Not sure about today but in the past new ideas for passenger airship travel went pearshaped because people remembered the poignant film of the Hindenburg burning up.

Probably still one of the best filmed air accident.

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Mr. Roosevelt voices sorrow

Sends message of sympathy to Germany

Galveston, Texas (UP) –
President Roosevelt late last night sent a personal message to Adolf Hitler, expressing “my deepest sympathy for today’s Hindenburg airship tragedy.”

Mr. Roosevelt was informed of the disaster while he was aboard the USS Potomac, where he is fishing for tarpon.

The message was addressed to “His Excellency, Adolf Hitler, Reich Chancellor, Berlin.” It said:

I have just learned of the disaster to the airship Hindenburg and offer you and the German people my deepest sympathy for the tragic loss of life which resulted from this unexpected and unhappy event.

Mr. Roosevelt radioed another message from his yacht, in which he also expressed his distress over the accident. He said:

I am distressed to hear of the tragedy of the Hindenburg and extend my deepest sympathy to the families of passengers, officers and crew who lost their lives.

Mr. Roosevelt’s yacht was anchored off Port Aransas, where he spent yesterday working on mail which was taken to him from Galveston by a Navy seaplane.

Survivor tells of nightmare on Hindenburg

Remembers jumping as fire broke out and little else; witness depicts scene
By Herbert O’Laughlin (as told to the United Press)

Two firsthand accounts of the burning of the German dirigible Hindenburg came from the lips of a bandage-swathed survivor of the disaster and from a lawyer, Robert J. Novins, who was standing a short distance from the scene when the airship caught fire over Lakehurst, New Jersey, mooring mast. The survivor, Herbert O’Laughlin, of Lake Forest, Illinois, told his story from his bed in a Newark, New Jersey, hospital.

Newark, New Jersey –
Everything happened so fast it’s hard to think. It’s all like a nightmare.

One minute we were there over the field in the Hindenburg with no thought of disaster. Then it all happened.

I was in my cabin. The ship seemed to be about 100 feet above the ground,

A light lit up the whole ship. Fire seemed to break out all above the ground. The ship came down fast. There wasn’t much time to think.

I know I jumped out of the ship. It wasn’t far to the ground. The ship was already on the ground in flames. I ran away as fast as I could. Somebody offered me treatment, and I was taken to a plane.

There isn’t much I knew about what really happened. I don’t guess anybody does. It was so quick. It was all a matter of seconds. It was a nightmare.


By Robert J. Novins

Lakehurst, New Jersey (UP) –
I was about 250 feet from the dirigible as she was being towed toward the mobile mooring mast.

The dirigible had just dropped two or more lines and the ground crew had picked up the lines. I guess the hangar was about a quarter of a mile away.

The ground crew was towing the dirigible toward the movable mooring mast when suddenly there was a spurt of flame from the middle section of the airship, a little back from the exact center toward the rear.

When I saw that flame, I started to run for the hangar.

A second later, there was a terrific explosion and the whole airship appeared to be enveloped in flames. The airship was about 75 feet off the ground at the time.

The flaming hulk collapsed to the ground. It seemed as though some of the ground crew members were caught in the falling wreck.

Germans send commission to U.S. for probe

Nation mourns Hindenburg, but pledges new and better airships

Berlin, Germany (UP) –
An official investigation commission started for New York today as Germans, mourning the loss of their dirigible Hindenburg as a national disaster, pledged themselves to keep their flag flying on new and better airships.

Representatives of the Air Ministry, the Air Research Bureau and the Zeppelin companies left by airplane for Bremerhaven, to sail on the liner Europa for New York and investigate the explosion which wrecked the Hindenburg.

Dr. Hugo Eckener, chief of the Zeppelin companies, left Vienna by auto for Berlin to see government leaders.

The Air Minister said that he would probably fly on to Cherbourg, France, and board the Europa tomorrow to accompany the official commission.

Prepares proclamation

Sources close to Adolf Hitler said he was preparing a proclamation to the German people which was expected to urge the donation of money to build a new ship similar to the nation’s contributions after the Echterdingen Zeppelin catastrophe in 1908.

Knut Eckener told the United Press by telephone from Friedrichshafen that the fabric was already being fitted on the hull of the Hindenburg’s sister ship, the LZ-130, and that a trial flight was expected on schedule late in September unless the work is ordered expedited.

In black-bordered newspapers, the people read the story of the Hindenburg tragedy. Beside this story, on the first pages, was the announcement that the new dirigible would soon be completed and put into transatlantic service.

It was not until after midnight in Germany that the Hindenburg burned and the news did not reach the public until this morning. Early workers crowded around the first extras that were grabbed from newsboys. They read not only the story of the tragedy, but banner-lined stories which read:

The new airship is under construction. The German people will not allow themselves to be discouraged.

Happened once before

This is what happened when years before the war, old Count Zeppelin’s first big airship was destroyed by fire after a forced landing due to engine trouble. Though many people sneered at his work and said that God would have given people wings if he had wanted them to fly, within a week more than 6 million ℳ (then $1,500,000) was raised by popular subscription to build a new, better one, and Zeppelin went forward with his work.

When the flash first came telling of the Hindenburg’s loss, most people had gone to bed, tired out, after a day of gay pickening and partying on the Ascension Day birthday.

The clerk on duty at the Zeppelin airport at Frankfurt got the news and thought it was a joke. Half an hour earlier, he had received from the Hindenburg the routine message:

Voyage ended. All aboard well.

This is the customary message sent just before a landing.

It was a full hour before officials at the field could bring themselves to realize that disaster had overtaken the ship of which Germany was so proud.

Hitler on holiday

Führer Hitler was notified by telephone from the Ministry of Propaganda. He had just taken a holiday trip in the gunboat Grille along the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal from Cuxhaven.

The first official statement was that the disaster was caused by a flash of lightning.

But even today, those who gathered about newspaper bulletin boards or read the extras, suggested that it might have been sabotage. There was a general mistaken belief among the uninformed that the ship was filled with non-inflammable helium.

The Pittsburgh Press (May 8, 1937)

NAVY OPENS HINDENBURG PROBE
Lehmann’s death sends toll to 35 in dirigible crash

Charges of sabotage will be investigated thoroughly by U.S. and Germany; many experts ready to testify

Dr. Hugo Eckener prepared to sail for the United States today to head Germany’s investigation of the fatal Hindenburg crash. The U.S. probe of the disaster has already begun, with hearings to open Monday.

The death last night of Capt. Ernst Lehmann, was hero and former commander of the Hindenburg, and deaths of two others this morning sent the crash toll to 35.

Eckener heads German board

NAS Lakehurst, New Jersey (UP) –
A naval board of investigation convened today to begin its own inquiry into the burning of the German dirigible Hindenburg, as the death toll of the disaster mounted to 35.

The Navy Department’s investigation preceded two other official studies of the crash. The Department of Commerce will open hearings Monday, and a group of German aviation experts, headed by Dr. Hugo Eckener, will investigate later every possible cause of the fire and explosion which sent the huge lighter-than-air craft to the ground, a charred mass of twisted girders and debris – including the suggestion of sabotage.

Haines heads board

The naval board was headed by Capt. Gordon W. Haines, ordinance inspector from Philadelphia. Other members of the board included Cdr. Roland Mayer, of the Naval Aircraft Factory at Philadelphia; Lt. Daniel J. Weintraub and Lt. Cdr. V. S. Knox of the Lakehurst Station.

Capt. Haines announced:

The board will make a thorough investigation into the possible causes of the disaster and will report upon the damage and responsibility in all matters affecting the U.S. government.

The inquiry was called under federal statutes permitting the board to swear in witnesses for an open hearing. Representatives of the Zeppelin Company will be called.

Lehmann dies

The 34th and 35th victims of the Hindenburg disaster died today. William Speck, the Hindenburg’s chief radio operator, died in a New York hospital at 6:40 a.m. Soon afterward, Erich Knöcher of Zeulenroda, Germany, died in another hospital.

They followed by 12 hours the death of Capt. Ernst Lehmann, the heir apparent to the dirigible fame of Dr. Hugo Eckener.

The new deaths speeded the federal investigation.

After announcing that public hearings would open here on Monday, Assistant Secretary of Commerce Monroe Johnson said:

If there is plausible evidence of sabotage in connection with the explosion which destroyed the Hindenburg, we will thoroughly investigate that angle of the disaster.

First mention of sabotage had come from Dr. Eckener, but after a study of more complete reports on the disaster, he said the likelihood of deliberate destruction of the giant airship “seems very small.” Nevertheless, he said that:

Obviously, the possibility of sabotage must also be examined.

Many questioned

Col. Johnson said many of the survivors and eyewitnesses of the crash had already been questioned by Dr. Fred Fagg Jr., chief of the Bureau of Air Commerce. He said:

The evidence will be further checked today and witnesses – survivors, eyewitnesses, naval air experts – will be called on Monday.

None of the many puzzling angles of this mystery will be neglected in the inquiry.

The board of three – South Trimble Jr., solicitor for the Department of Commerce, chairman; Maj. R. W. Schroeder, Assistant Director of the Bureau of Air Commerce; and Denis Mulligan, chief of the Regulations and Enforcement Division of the bureau – will start formal hearings without the testimony which Capt. Lehmann might have been able to add to the record to be compiled as a safeguard against future disasters such as overtook the pride of the Reich.

Death toll 35

Capt. Lehmann died in a Lakehurst, New Jersey, hospital a few hours after the board had been formed to inquire into the crash – a disaster which Germany had believed impossible. Although he had stumbled from the flaming wreckage of the “perfect” airship crying that, “I can’t understand it, I can’t understand it,” investigators had counted on his vast technical knowledge for invaluable aid in seeking the cause of the tragedy.

The deaths today brought to 22 the number of the Hindenburg’s crew that perished. In addition, 12 passengers and the civilian member of the Naval Air Station ground crew were killed. Ninety-seven persons were aboard the ship. Of 63 survivors, almost all were injured.

Meanwhile, Capt. Max Pruss, in command of the Hindenburg on its first Atlantic crossing of 1937, continued in serious condition in the New York City Medical Center. It was doubtful whether he would be able to aid the inquiry board, at least for the present. Like Capt. Lehmann, he suffered severe burns and nervous shock which made the outcome of his battle for life uncertain.

Wreckage guarded

The wreckage of the Hindenburg, spread across a thousand feet on a Naval Air Station landing field, was placed in direct charge of the Bureau of Air Commerce of the Commerce Department, which cooperated with naval, Army, state and German representatives in the investigation.

Mr. Johnson announced that the Commerce Department had taken full charge of the inquiry, ending worries of the U.S. Customs officers who had carefully guarded the charred shreds of fabric and the blackened girders which were all that remained of the great dirigible.

A few letters and burned relics of the disaster were all that the customs officials had spotted in the debris.

The Board of Inquiry – whose members were already assembling at Lakehurst – had the advantage of expert testimony by officials of the air station who saw the Hindenburg crash. Cdr. Charles E. Rosendahl was only one of several lighter-than-air authorities who saw the burst of flames in the tail of the dirigible, the sweep of fire through the big ship and the explosions which tore her apart and sent her slumping to the ground.

Experts to testify

Cdr. Jesse L. Kenworthy, executive officer at the air station, and other experts worked closely with the investigators and were expected to give valuable testimony at the hearings.

Generally, they agreed that a spark from the motors or – more probably – a flash from the exhaust as the engines were revealed in landing had caused the hydrogen, mixed with air as it was released from the gas bags, to ignite.

Swiftness with which the flames raced through the huge ship presented a terrifying example of the dangers of hydrogen – a highly inflammable gas – and Dr. Eckener declared that Germany would never again inflate a dirigible’s bag with the gas. He said:

Henceforth no passenger would set foot in a hydrogen-filled airship. Therefore, regardless of cost, we shall use helium.

U.S. has monopoly

Although the United States has a virtual monopoly on the world’s helium supply, it was believed that Congress, stirred by the Hindenburg tragedy, would release surplus supplies to foreign governments for strictly commercial purposes.

The Senate Military Affairs Committee has already reported favorably the Sheppard Helium Bill, under which surplus quantities of the gas would be sold to private interests under strict government control.

Should the United States relax its monopoly, Germany would be able to use the gas in the LZ-130, which is now being built at Friedrichshafen, the base of Zeppelin operations. Germany’s determination not to admit defeat in its plan to keep the Nazi flag flying over the ocean airways was shown by an order from Gen. Hermann Göring, Air Minister, for speedy completion of the LZ-130.

Herr Göring said in a manifesto to all German aviators:

I have ordered acceleration in the work of finishing the airship. It will soon show Germany’s proud flag.

We German aviators will show the world that the Zeppelin idea has proved its worth and that airship communication continues to be a peaceful link between the nations.

Eckener abandons sabotage idea

New York (UP) –
There is only “a very slight possibility” that sabotage was responsible for the destruction of the dirigible Hindenburg, Dr. Hugo Eckener, its designer and first commander said in a broadcast from Germany.

He said:

Of course, a question of sabotage, I must confess, occurred to me in the first moment, the possibility of which will have to be carefully investigated. After considering the latest news, and especially in view of the excellent measures taken by the American government, however, only a very slight possibility for this solution of the mystery remains.

It is more probable that electrical disturbances in connection with the peculiar atmospheric conditions have played an important part in the accident.

Dr. Eckener said he would sail today on the Europa with a commission coming to the United States to investigate the disaster.

Mrs. Ernst Lehmann, wife of the Hindenburg officer who died last night, will also sail on the Europa.

The commission consists of Dr. Eckener, Dr. Ludwig Dürr, Lt. Col. Breithaupt of the Air Ministry; Dr. Hoffman of the German Research Institute; and Prof. Dieckmann of the College of Aeronautics at Munich.


Injuries fatal to war hero

Lakewood, New Jersey (UP) –
The silver Queen of the Skies he loved brought death last night to Capt. Ernst A. Lehmann, famed German war hero and former commander of the ill-fated Hindenburg, which crashed Thursday night at Lakehurst.

The death of Capt. Lehmann closed the career of a man who had been hailed as the successor to Dr. Hugo Eckener, whom he succeeded as the Hindenburg’s commander a year ago.

All day yesterday, visitors passed into his hospital room. It was thought he was on the way to recovery. But late in the afternoon, his condition suddenly grew worse.

Two physicians were brought from New York to take him to Rockefeller Center, but when they arrived, his condition was so bad they advised against removing him.

Visited by Luther

Suffering from horrible burns, Capt. Lehmann, wrapped like a mummy in chlorine-soaked bandages, lay gray-faced as Hans Luther, German Ambassador to the United States, visited him just before he died.

He told the stricken man:

Herr Kapitan, you are one of the bravest men I have seen in all Germany. You will live – for we need men like you.

Unable to speak through cracked and blood-caked lips, Capt. Lehmann managed to smile and lifted a bandaged hand. Mr. Luther walked out, tears streaming down his cheeks.

An hour later, the captain was dead.

Taken to New York

Capt. Anton Heinlein, one of the most famed of all dirigible commanders, and a lifelong friend of Capt. Lehmann, reached the hospital just five minutes after Capt. Lehmann died.

He walked into the room. A minute later, he came out, his bristly red beard bobbing with emotion. He leaned against a wall for a minute.

A priest who had accompanied the veteran dirigible flier to the hospital said:

Please do not speak to him.

A half-hour later, white-coated attendants wheeled three of Capt. Lehmann’s flying companions out to ambulances, and they were hurried to the Rockefeller Center in New York in a desperate effort to save them.

Observer on ship

One was Capt. Max Pruss, commander of the Hindenburg when it burned – a man who has flown the Atlantic Ocean 171 times. The last fatal flight was his first as commander of the big airship. The others were Capt. Sammt and William Speck, radio engineers. Speck later died. All three were wrapped in blankets. Only their eyes moved; yellow casts caked their heads and their arms were white, shapeless things.

Capt. Lehmann commanded the Hindenburg on her first flight to the United States last year. This year, he came as an observer.

He was universally regarded as the best lighter-than-air ship pilot in the world. He commanded the Graf Zeppelin on several of its flights and brought the ZR-3 across from Germany when that reparations prize was delivered to the United States.

Official at Goodyear

He had Zeppelin experience for nearly 25 years. Before the World War started in 1914, he had piloted Zeppelins on more than 100 flights and with the opening of hostilities, he was on military duty as a Zeppelin pilot until 1917. He once bombed London from the air. After the war, he was chief engineer of the German Zeppelin Works.

In 1923, the Goodyear Zeppelin Corporation of Akron, Ohio, appointed him vice president in charge of engineering. In 1929, he announced he had taken out citizenship papers preparatory to becoming an American. When he was given command of the Hindenburg, he decided he would continue to make Germany his home.

His wife was reported to be sailing today from Cherbourg aboard the Bremen.

Their two-year-old son died on Easter Sunday.

Hitler thanks Mr. Roosevelt

Galveston, Texas (UP) –
For the second time in two months, President Roosevelt and Adolf Hitler exchanged messages of sympathy yesterday for lives lost in an explosion.

Answering Mr. Roosevelt’s radiogram from the presidential cruise vessel expressing sympathy over the lives lost when the dirigible Hindenburg burned, the German Chancellor said:

I thank Your Excellency sincerely for the heartfelt words of sympathy which you have expressed to myself and the German people with regard to the disaster of which the airship Hindenburg was the victim.

It was only a few weeks ago that Hitler sent a message of condolence to President Roosevelt and the American people because of the deaths of 294 persons in the explosion that wrecked the schoolhouse at New London, Texas.

Survivor describes jump from blazing Hindenburg

‘I let go when ship started falling, hit ground and bounced,’ acrobat says – meets wife and faints

The following interview with Joseph Späh, one of the survivors of the Hindenburg disaster, tells of the last flight of the ill-fated airship. Mr. Späh told his story as he lay on a sun chair, his leg fractured in a spectacular leap from the burning Queen of the Skies.

Douglaston, New York (UP) –

The screams of the dying inside the blazing inferno that was the Hindenburg are ringing in my ears…

That is what Joseph Späh, survivor of the Hindenburg disaster, said last night before describing to me “the terrifying end to a journey that seems like a dream.”

He rubbed his hand across his eyes as if to wipe out the horror.

The 32-year-old survivor, who is an acrobat and actor, said:

Women screamed and children cried for their mothers when the first explosions occurred.

I was standing at the window of the lounge with the chief steward, a brave guy, I’ll tell you.

I guess there were 20 or 25 of us passengers crowded into the room. We were looking out the windows. Our passports were in our hands. Our hearts were thrilling to the fact we were home. In a few minutes, we would touch the ground, bound into the arms of waiting wives and sweethearts and relatives. I had not seen my wife in several months.

I focused my camera on the ground crew as the first rope was cast down.

Matter of seconds

The chief steward told me when the next rope dropped, we would be ready to open the hatch. It was only a matter of seconds, he said. The second rope was dropped but the ground crew never got it.

There was a blinding light, then an explosion. I didn’t realize what had happened.

The steward tried to calm the passengers. He assured us that everything was all right.

We all had been laughing and joking, exchanging addresses and telling each other goodbye. I had just told a fellow I’d see him again soon. And I promised Capt. Lehmann I’d look him up when I came to Germany again. He was smiling when I saw him last.

I’m sorry you tell me he is dead. He was a brave man, a great airman, and so polite to us all.

‘Shrieking mass’

Before the chief steward walk three steps, the stern of the ship sank. He slipped to the floor with the other passengers. We were a mass of shrieking, crying people.

I managed to cling to a window support. Somewhere back in the ship, I heard a loud cry for help.

Then there was another explosion. This was all a matter of seconds. I knocked out one of the windows with my fist. I climbed through.

By this time, the fire had reached the lounge. The heat was so intense I hardly could hold on outside the ship. We were 200 feet up in the air. If I dropped, I knew I would be killed. I held on by one hand and when the ship started falling, I turned loose. I landed on my feet, bounced into the air and fell on my face.

There was another explosion and another. The force of the concussions threw me away from the ship which was falling directly on me.

Stumbled blindly

I crawled, managed to get to my feet and then stumbled blindly across the field. I looked back once – the ship had fallen where I had dropped.

I heard men yelling. I heard women calling on God. A thousand things were happening all at once it seemed. I was not panicky. I’d be dead now if I had been excited. I guess being in the show business – ready for everything – was the reason I held my head.

When I found my wife, my strength left me and I collapsed. “Journey’s end,” I said to her. She cried. I couldn’t believe that the trip had ended this way. Only Monday we left Frankfurt, Germany. It was night. There had been farewell parties. No thought of danger. To many of us, it was going home.

Riding the clouds

Out across the Atlantic, we rode in the Hindenburg. It was like riding on clouds. There was no pitching or jerking. No one thought of fire.

Once when lightning was playing around in the sky while we were flying along the Holland coast, I asked Capt. Lehmann if there was any chance of the ship being struck. He said “no.” The captain assured the other passengers there was no danger from lightning. So, we all settled back to writing, drinking and talking.

Mr. Späh is an acrobatic comedian, who had been touring Europe. On the stage, he is known as Ben Dova. Married, he has three children.

Mr. Späh flicked askes from his cigarette at the end of the interview, looked up with a queer little smile and said:

I haven’t lost faith in the Zeppelins.

Many women swoon at movies of crash

New York (UP) –
The Hindenburg holocaust will rank as one of the most photographed disasters of all time.

Scores of newspaper photographers, movie cameras and amateurs were at Lakehurst to photograph the routine arrival of the airship and their cameras were trained on the great dirigible from the time the first flame was visible until she crashed.

Newsreels were showing in packed Broadway theaters and women fainted as the screen showed burning bodies hurtling through the air and flame-blackened survivors whose clothing had been burned from their bodies.

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The Pittsburgh Press (May 9, 1937)

Crash of Zep to aid science

Eyewitnesses, survivors to tell stories

Lakehurst, New Jersey (UP) – (May 8)
Government experts promised tonight that an “historic contribution to aeronautical science of the future” would be the memorial to destruction of the German dirigible Hindenburg with a loss of 35 lives.

Simultaneous investigations by the Navy and by the Department of Commerce, cooperating with German and other U.S. representatives, indicated that information of utmost importance will be contributed to the science of operating lighter-than-air craft.

Col. Harold Hartney, technical advisor to the Senate Air Safety Committee and advisor to the Commerce Board of Inquiry, said:

Never in history has a lighter-than-air craft accident occurred under comparable circumstances.

He had in mind the number of trained airship officers, both aboard the ship and at the Naval Station here, whose direct, first-hand, testimony will be available.

Results valuable

He said:

The results of the investigation should be of greatest value to aviation in the future. Our principal purpose will be to determine how such accidents can be avoided – what structural improvements can be made in dirigibles and what must be done to avoid a recurrence of the Hindenburg disaster.

Public hearings at which Dr. Hugo Eckener, world-famous commander of dirigibles, will probably testify, will begin here Monday, under circumstances which authorities said were unprecedented in the history of past airship disasters.

A most serious blow to the investigation – as well as to aircraft industry as a whole – were the deaths of Capt. Ernst Lehmann and RO William Speck, both of whom were extremely popular with the Hindenburg crew.

Death toll 35

Deaths in hospitals of Capt. Lehmann, Herr Speck, and a passenger, Erich Knöcher of Zeulenroda, Germany, raised the death toll to 35. In addition, several others, including Capt. Max Pruss, commander of the Hindenburg, were in a serious condition.

Despite the loss of Capt. Lehmann’s testimony, and the inability of Capt. Pruss to testify at once, the two inquiry boards will have at their command a wealth of material which they believe will throw light on the cause of the disaster, definitely settle suggestions that sabotage was involved and point the way toward greater safety in aeronautics of the future.

The sabotage angle – which was discounted by surviving members of the crew as well as American airship experts who witnessed the disaster – will be given particular attention if Dr. Eckener, en route here with a German investigating commission, testifies as expected.

Of particular interest to the experts who have already made rapid progress in assembling material for the investigation, were the photographs and motion pictures taken of the burst of flames from near the Hindenburg’s tail after landing lines had been tossed out and the explosions which spread the fire throughout the ship and sent her tail-first to the ground in a period of about four minutes.

The chief importance of the pictures, the experts said, was that they definitely eliminated many conflicts in the stories of eyewitnesses of the disaster. Even among the American naval expert witnesses – they included Cdr. Charles E. Rosendahl and Cdr. Jesse L. Kenworthy – there were inevitable minor differences in relating the story of the crash due to different angles from which it was witnessed.

Flames shot forward

Thus, the experts were able to throw out at once the story of some witnesses who believed the tail of the world’s greatest dirigible slammed against the ground as she came to a landing and in that way started the fire.

There was also no question that the fire broke out in the aft part of the ship and that explosions, and the dropping of the tail, shot the flames forward.

It was also certain that nothing about the wreckage of the dirigible stretched in a tangled mass of black metal over 800 feet of the landing field, had been touched since it slumped to the ground in flames. Naval and Marine guards have surrounded the flame-swept wreckage since the moment of the disaster. Even the landing ropes – one strung out in front of the ship and one on the left – have been untouched.

But on the question of origin of the sparks which set fire to the Hindenburg’s hydrogen, the experts admittedly faced greater difficulty.

It may have been a burst of flame from the exhausts as the ship reversed its motors to aid in landing at the same time that hydrogen was being valved out of the big bag and mixing with air so that it became inflammable. It may have been a heavy accumulation of static which the grounding rope failed properly to discharge. It may have been merely a jump spark from a motor. Or, possibly as some have suggested without any proof, it could have been a bullet fired from a distance.

Not even the chief engineer of the Hindenburg, who was dumped from the very tail of the craft without serious injuries, has been able to throw important light on the origin of the fire. German Embassy officials questioned him as well as every surviving member of the crew.

Spark unseen

They know that nothing was wrong on board of the ship. They know that no fire was seen until a sudden burst of flame was visible to spectators on the ground. They assert that nobody saw the spark which must have started the blaze.

In addition, there were reports that failure of a civilian landing crew to release one landing line when an order was given from the Hindenburg might have thrown the ship sidewise slightly and permitted an exhaust flash to ignite loose hydrogen. Station officials discounted that theory although they were reluctant to comment prior to the formal hearings.

Surviving members of the crew, U.S. experts and possibly surviving passengers will be called to testify at the hearings on Monday. The hearings of the Naval and Commerce Boards will run simultaneously.

It was understood that some of the members of the crew who survived the disaster expected to be reassigned to the new dirigible now under construction in Germany.

The bodies of the German victims of the disaster will be returned to Germany on the earliest available Hamburg-American Line ship, the Zeppelin Company announced.

Capt. Lehmann’s body, however, will remain here until after arrival of his wife from Germany.

Copeland worried about ‘sabotage’

Washington (UP) – (May 8)
Senator Royal S. Copeland (D-NY), Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, said tonight that committee experts are continuing to investigate possibility of sabotage in connection with the Hindenburg disaster.

He made the statement shortly after he conferred by telephone with Col. Harold E. Hartney, Commerce Committee investigator now at Lakehurst. He said:

Of course, we are going purely on conjecture, and we must not go wild on it. However, I cannot rid myself of the suspicion.

Naval authorities in the Senate, meanwhile, indicated tonight that despite the Hindenburg disaster, they would fight against permitting large amounts of helium gas to be exported, unless domestic supplies prove to be “inexhaustible.”

Senator David I. Walsh (D-MA), Chairman of the Senate Naval Affairs Committee, asked the Navy Department to determine the extent of this country’s supply of the non-inflammable gas.

His attitude presaged a possible sharp controversy over the proposal to relax present restrictions on export of helium. The Hindenburg disaster, it was indicated, was caused by explosion of the highly-inflammable hydrogen gas which German airship builders use.


New York (UP) – (May 8)
Two theories of what might have caused the dirigible Hindenburg to catch fire and crash were offered today by experts on diesel engines. Both were based on some reports the fire started near the airship’s port side rear engine.

One engineer, who asked that his name be withheld, suggested that when the ship began releasing hydrogen upon nearing the mooring mast, a downward draft of air carried some of the gas into the air intake of the engine, overheating the exhaust pipe enough to ignite the hydrogen.

Another expert, however, doubted whether hydrogen sucked into the cylinders of the engine would overheat it enough to start a fire.

H. W. Runyon of the Worthington Pump & Machinery Corporation said the fire might have started when hydrogen floating past the engine was ignited by a spark from the exhaust. He said sparks came from the exhaust of diesel engines only when they are started, but based his theory on the report that the rear port side engine was stopped and started several times as the airship approached the mooring mast.


Cherbourg, France – (May 8)
Dr. Hugo Eckener, Zeppelin chief, and a mission of German experts who will aid him in investigating the disaster to the Hindenburg, sailed for the United States today aboard the liner Europa.

The Pittsburgh Press (May 10, 1937)

Crash detailed by Rosendahl

Approach of ship normal, naval expert says

NAS Lakehurst, New Jersey (UP) –
Cdr. Charles E. Rosendahl, dean of American aircraft experts, recited today in a low tense voice the first official version of the dirigible Hindenburg disaster without being able to state the cause of fire that destroyed the giant ship before his eyes.

Rosendahl brought out that dirigible accumulate static in their hulls and that the Hindenburg had been in the vicinity of thunderstorms as she came in Thursday night for the landing at the end of the season’s first voyage from Germany with 97 persons aboard.

The static is usually discharged when the first landing ropes touch the ground, especially when the ropes are wet as they were Thursday night. Sometimes there is so much of this electricity, Mr. Rosendahl said, that:

We have had men in ground crews who have been almost knocked over as they grabbed the ropes.

While Mr. Rosendahl indicated it was not beyond possibility that some such static spark touched off the fire in which 35 persons died, he testified that this was unlikely, he said:

I think that the contact of the ropes with the ground quickly discharged the static.

Called as the first witness before the three-man Commerce Department board meeting in the air station hangar. Mr. Rosendahl went over the whole tragic story in terse, unimaginative phrases that might have come from a naval manual.

Only on the frequent pauses between his story of “the incident” and “the events” that overtook the Hindenburg could spectators in the cold, barren board room realize that he was remembering the dirigible as she poked her way pout of a sullen sky, the quick burst of yellowish flame from her topside, the flare of light as she burst ablaze and sank to the wet earth like a torch, with screaming passengers leaping from her cabins.

Mr. Rosendahl pointed out to the board, in reply to questions, that he had seen nothing which could tell him the cause of the fire. The ship was lancing normally, he said.

He said:

There was first a burst of flame aft and on top of the ship. Then the fire spread forward and she fell.

Describes agreements

Mr. Rosendahl, himself a survivor of the Shenandoah crash more than a decade ago, identified himself as the commander of the Naval Station, recited his previous commands, including his experience as skipper of the USS Akron, which was later destroyed, and his flights on every important dirigible in recent years.

He sketched the background of agreements between the Navy Department and the German Zeppelin Company allowing the Hindenburg to use the Lakehurst Air Station. Copies of several documents were placed in the record.

The federal government was absolved of any damage which might be suffered by the German dirigible according to the agreements.

Contact maintained

Mr. Rosendahl said:

Frequent radio reports of the approach of the Hindenburg were received as scheduled at this station.

This service functioned well except for bad static conditions near the end of the flight, but that did not prevent communication.

Direct contact was maintained at the end of the trip. She was to land at 6 p.m., and leave at 10 p.m., or as soon thereafter as possible.

Arrangements for the ground crew included furnishing a nucleus of 90 men from the Naval Station and of additional personnel.

On this occasion there were 92 station men and 132 civilians, most of whom had had previous experience. However, the civilians were hired by the Hindenburg agents.

Arrangements made

Mr. Rosendahl continued:

As the ship came across the ocean, she encountered headwinds and it was evident she would be delayed beyond the original hour, and she sent word she would land at 6 p.m. Our arrangements were made for that hour.

Weather was unsettled. There were thunder showers and a well-defined mild squall line moved over the station. Several heavy showers occurred, but there was no thunder.

The Hindenburg came over the station and proceeded to the southward to wait the landing hour.

At 5:43 (EST), I sent a message to the ship that they delay landing until we advised them, doe to unsettled weather conditions.

Ship told to land

At 5:53 p.m. we received a message that the ship could wait until advised to land. It was signed: “Pruss.” [Capt. Max Pruss, commander of the Zeppelin].

At 6:12, I sent another message to the Hindenburg saying:

Conditions now better. Ground crew ready. Thunderstorm over station.

Mr. Rosendahl said:

The thunderstorm that I said was over the station we knew would clear away before the ship arrived back here.

At 6:15, I advised the ship to land and it soon appeared.

Mr. Rosendahl moved to the airfield chart and began pointing out just where the ship came in to land.

The ship appeared on a northerly course, passing over the mooring mast and turned left and circled and came in from the west. She circled and turned right to approach for landing in a general southern direction.

Light rain falling

The weather conditions at the time of landing were as follows: Ceiling 2000 to 3000, a light rain was falling, the surface wind was light and variable and was one knot southeast.

The wind at the top of the water tower was west six knots.

There was occasional lightning in the southwest, but local conditions were entirely satisfactory for the landing, in my opinion.

The ship made a sharp turn to starboard but it was not unusual.

Ships with helium make a longer style of approach than a hydrogen ship which can adjust her equilibrium or static condition much more easily.

The approach was normal and utilized the backing power of her engines as is customary.

Ropes thrown out

He then told how the Hindenburg threw out her starboard and port ropes.

The purpose of the manila ropes is to steady the nose. The actual pulling of the ship to the mooring mast is by a steel cable dropped through the nose.

Mr. Rosendahl said:

When I observed there was a slight difference in the direction of the surface wind, I went from the mooring mast to confer with ground crew officers.

About four minutes after the trail ropes had been dropped and came to the ground ropes and while the steel nose cable was dropping to the ground, although it never reached the ground, there occurred events which interrupted the normal landing procedure.

The ship at no time was closer to the mooring mast than about 50 feet outside the circular railroad track.

When the ship had dropped its guiding ropes and was letting out its mooring cable, Mr. Rosendahl continued:

There was a small burst of flame on the afterpart of the ship on the top.

He told how the fire spread progressively through the airship, accompanied by mild explosions.

Heroism revealed

It was obvious that the first effort of the ground crew was to get out from under. But as soon as she struck, I saw a great part of the ground crew return to the ship. I think the hearing will disclose acts of heroism.

Within a short time, we had firetruck and other assistance from the outside.

Because of the intense heat, it was impossible to get into the burning ship and those who did try to get in risked their lives.

Mr. Rosendahl said:

The fire burned three or more hours. We put a guard about it.

Mr. Rosendahl leaned over to confer with South Trimble Jr., head of the investigating board, and in a flurry of picture-taking a flashbulb exploded and showered glass over them.

Mr. Rosendahl stood up abruptly, his nerves obviously taut. He growled at the photographers.

Fun is fun, but–

The cameramen were then told to move to the rear.

No hearing tomorrow

One of the technical advisers on the board asked Mr. Rosendahl what effect static could have on hydrogen. Mr. Rosendahl said he was not expert enough to answer.

He was asked whether the manila landing ropes could have caused an electric current when they hit the ground that could have started the fire. His reply definitely indicated that he did not believe that was the cause, but he said he did not know.

In my opinion, the ropes would discharge the static into the ground. An airship hull accumulates static and the first contact of the ropes with the ground discharges the static.

Mr. Rosendahl asked the board to allow the members of the Hindenburg crew and his own officers and men, to go to New York tomorrow to attend funeral services for the dead, who will be returned to Germany aboard the SS Hamburg. Mr. Trimble indicated there would be no hearing tomorrow.

When Mr. Rosendahl concluded, the board recessed until later this afternoon.

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The Pittsburgh Press (May 11, 1937)

Zeppelin crash funerals halt disaster quiz

Hindenburg probe witness tells of mysterious light on fin

New York (UP) –
Investigation of the Hindenburg disaster was halted temporarily today, while survivors, German diplomats and U.S. Army and Navy officers prepared to attend funeral services for 23 of the 35 victims.

The 23 flag-draped coffins were taken to the Hamburg-American Line pier where rites will be held at 6 p.m. The liner Hamburg will take them to Germany for burial. The services will be conducted by a Roman Catholic priest and two Protestant clergymen, one of them a Lutheran minister.

The liner Europa Thursday will bring to New York a German government commission appointed to investigate the disaster headed by Dr. Hugo Eckener, head of the Zeppelin Works.

Rosendahl testifies

The U.S. Department of Commerce inquiry opened at Lakehurst yesterday, with Cdr. Rosendahl as the first witness. The American officer, a survivor of the Shenandoah crash more than a decade ago, said he believed it was unlikely that a static spark raced up the Hindenburg’s landing ropes and ignited the hydrogen in her big bag. He indicated that he believed the spark or flame came from the airship.

Investigators pondered the testimony of Fredrich Wilhelm von Meister, vice president of the American Zeppelin Company, who said a mysterious light appeared on one of the Hindenburg’s fins just before she burst into flames.

There was doubt as to whether Mr. Von Meister believed the light came from outside the Hindenburg or was a reflection of the flame as it burst through the hydrogen bag.

Mentioned by several

South Trimble Jr., chairman of the investigating committee:

We expect to develop the statement fully later in the hearing. There have been several witnesses who mentioned it.

Cdr. Rosendahl said he heard “a lot of chatter about the light,” and that:

If you listen to the rest of the testimony, you’ll hear more about it.

The hearing will resume tomorrow.

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