EDITOR’S NOTE: On May 6, 1937, the German airship Hindenburg burst into flames at Lakehurst Naval Air Station in New Jersey. Thirty-five folks aboard and one individual on the floor died. Ahead of Saturday’s 80th anniversary, the AP is republishing a variant of its original policy.
LAKEWOOD, N.J. (AP) — its silvery majority shattered with a great explosion, the German atmosphere liner Hindenburg plunged in flames at the United States Naval air station tonight, with signs which 34 of the 100 aboard and one spectator expired.
As minor explosions continued to rip its aluminum skeleton and ribboned fabric for hours then, an official announcement listed as having lived 24 of 39 passengers aboard and 42 out of the 61 members of this crew, therefore leaving a total of 34 unaccounted for. Twenty-four bodies were counted in 2 areas, thirteen at the naval sick bay and twenty five in the great hangar itself.
Timothy W. Margerum of Lakewood said there were corpses from the naval station’s garage which was transformed into a morgue. A number of the dead were burned from the oil. Margerum reported other people were perishing. Hospitals for miles around were filled with all the injured.
The navy department in Washington said that it was advised at 48 persons were murdered.
A explosion of the No. 2 gas mobile ahead of the stern of the boat was called the origin of the disaster by State Aviation Commissioner Gill Robb Wilson, who predicted the explosion “odd” The highly inflammable hydrogen gas billowed into ferocious fire as the explosion plummeted the boat to the air field.
Ground spectators said crew members in the stern of the boat “never had a chance” to escape.
The disaster struck without the least warning. The boat had angled its blunt nose toward the mooring mast, the spider-like landing lines were snaked down and the floor crew had grasped the ropes from the nose, once the explosion roared outside, scattering ground crew and audiences like scared sheep.
The passengers, who were waving gayly a minute prior to the windows, were so stunned they couldn’t clarify overdue what happened. Some jumped into the lunar landing field together with members of their crew. Others appeared to have been thrown in the careening skyliner as it created its departure dip.
The heat drove prospective rescuers, therefore it couldn’t be decided for how many the Hindenburg created a burning tomb. Fire departments from nearby communities converged around the field and soon had streams of water flowing the broken air liner. The flames enveloped the outline of their boat, apparently feeding the gas oil supply with the Hindenburg carried because of its Diesel engines.
Somewhere from the glowing furnace were the 2 puppies, 340 pounds of email, and the slew of luggage which it had aboard.
Thirty-one survivors were accounted for in hospitals and other areas from the Lakehurst place at 10:45 p.m.
F.W. Von Meister, vice president of the American Zeppelin Transport company, the general United States agents for the German Zeppelin Transport company, the Hindenburg’s owners, said there were two possible causes behind the explosions.
He listed the wet condition that prevailed at the naval air station once the landing was captured. The boat cruised around the field for an hour to ride out a rainstorm and nosed down while rain nevertheless has been falling.
The rainy condition, Von Meister said, would make for static electricity which might have sparked while the landing principles were lost, and consequently might have touched off the highly volatile hydrogen gas which gave the very long silver boat its own lifting power.
The second concept Von Meister progressed was a spark flew from one of the engines when they were throttled down to the landing. The boat was valving hydrogen to landing, and he speculated some of the gas might have gathered in a pocket under the tail and detonated.
Some authorities scouted the concept that the explosion could have been brought on by the ignition of hydrogen within the gas cells. They said a mix of 20 percent free atmosphere with hydrogen would be required to result in an explosion, indicating the first blast must have happened outside among the gas cells.
Aeronautical specialists said the only way that they could explain an explosion within the boat would be that free hydrogen had in some way escaped and was lying in the stern of the boat where it was inadvertently ignited.
Authorities said there were two explosions from the atmosphere, followed closely by several lesser ones after the stricken boat settled on the floor. The lower explosions were considered due to detonating gas tanks. The blasts ripped the boat as though she were made of paper.
The first two sent flames shooting into the evening sky, but men standing under the boat reported that they believed practically no concussion. The explosion’s force, however, was felt somewhat farther away in the boat, those from the ring of audiences said.
Capt. Ernst Lehmann, who piloted the boat on the majority of its trip a year ago, tottered dazedly in the wreckage and turned toward an ambulance.
Sailors Dive Into Flames.
As the flames hurried forward along the fabric toward the passengers” sofa along with the hands automobile the navy men of the floor crew “dove in the flames like dogs after rabbit,” Commissioner Wilson said in voicing high praise of their rescue heroism.
The power of the explosion hurled some of the passengers in the fabric envelope of their boat as it fell, and threw them shocked to the landing field.
Wilson declared he considered the explosion’s cause unexplained, also included: “I repeat, there was some thing strange which caused this tragedy.”
“Those in the belly of the boat,” he said, ” had no chance.”
The tail, with its swastika emblems of both Nazi Germany, sagged immediately after the very first rending explosion. The nose hung motionless for a moment in the air, then crashed earthward, the broken segments telescoped as they fell. Pieces of the silvery fabric fluttered down some in flames.
Ground crew members estimated that the ship’s altitude at a few hundred feet once the disaster broke.
Even as the flames were swallowing the dirigible, passengers were coming at the air station with bags for the return trip. The program called for a quick turnabout this moment, with death toward midnight tonight. It was a gay ship across the Atlantic, as many of the passengers that took bookings were bound for the majority of coronation festivities in London next week.
“Run for your lives” was the cry that scattered audiences if the dirigible shot her flaming death plunge. The navy men of the floor crew who stood his ground took one badly burned man in the management car, up on the nose of the boat, soon after that area struck. This showed the rate where the fire had hurried down the envelope by the stern.
The screams and cries of wounded in misery were “dreadful,” the hardened sailors and marines who did the rescue work reported. The clothing was burned off one man. Still another, blown through the envelope, was found moaning near the blasted airship.
The lands and rescue workers informed of the heat which followed the explosion and the explosion of fire.
A number of audiences and floor crew men said they saw figures, seemingly members of this crew, leap from the management car as it neared the floor. After the widow settled it surrendered badly burned bodies, for this that the fire was the worst in the beginning.
Storms and headwinds at sea had postponed the Hindenburg on her first trip of the season. Originally she was scheduled to nose down into a landing at 6 a.m. today. The program was for the refuel speedily and eliminate at 10 p.m.
The boat was postponed before by adverse weather and there was no hint of anything untoward in the atmosphere as she glided in gracefully toward dusk after cruising on New Jersey for an hour to await the most positive landing time — the evening.
The floor crew went out to the vast tree bordered field as they had done so many times before when the ship came into port. The comings and goings of the boat had become so regular that a comparatively modest crowd of spectators had gathered to watch her.
Capt. Max Pruss was maneuvering the boat to make certain to find those positive conditions. He had remained aloft within the field for over an hour to ride out the rainstorm that ventured into the landing field. He then nosed her down.
Dr. Hugo Eckener, renowned airship commander, and Capt. Ernst A. Lehmann were skippers of the Hindenburg last calendar year. Capt. Pruss, presuming command for the first time on this trip, has worked in close cooperation with both of these veterans. He traveled with both the Graf Zeppelin and the Hindenburg last year and was about the Graf on its own excursions into the Arctic, Northern Africa, and around the world.
Pruss was aboard the older Los Angeles, decommissioned airship of the United States navy, as it was introduced to the USA in 294, plus he spent five weeks at Lakewood as a teacher in 1924-’25.
The Zeppelin was to have created 18 round trips this year and was to have cut off its time at Lakehurst to one day on every trip. Speedier reservicing surgeries were exercised during the off season by Lieutenant Commander C.V.S. Knox, meeting and repair officer at the naval air station, and technicians of their oil company which supplied the boat with its own hydrogen lifting gas and Diesel gas oil.
2 stewards and a tiny cabin boy, who also refused to give their names. They said that the explosion came in the stern of the boat and they saved themselves by jumping in the windows.
Harry Wellbrook of Toms River, a part of the floor crew directly under the stern waiting for the landing lines to be thrown, said he and the men in the crew ran to their lives to keep away in the blazing wreckage.
He said “We got out three bodies in the stern of the boat, all burned beyond recognition.”
“One of the men was so horribly burnt the features weren’t recognizable. Only from the simple fact he was breathing can tell he was living. The clothing on all of these bodies has been burned to cinders and skin scorched off”
Rescue work was being conducted by an military detail in Philadelphia which was on the floor for a crisis.
Screams came in the wreckage. Rescue workers said that the anguished cries were “terrible.”
1 rescue worker said he saw about a dozen persons pulled out of the wreckage. Some were burned badly, others maybe not.
At 7:40 p.m. the wreckage was blazing. Airplanes and trucks kept a constant traffic in the official buildings into the wreck.
Joseph Capestro, a part of the floor crew, said he saw three men leap out of the hands cabin, and one of these wore commander’s stripes. He took him to be Commander Lehmann.
Official sources said as far as was known, not one of the United States navy officers, or civilian floor crew lost their lives.
Herbert M. LeCompte, of Lakewood, said he treated among the survivors who was so badly burned he was not able to talk about.
LeCompte said he could tell from a couple of words which the man could speak English but wasn’t able to give any coherent account of the disaster.
The AP Corporate Archives given to this report.
The article AP WAS THERE: The airship Hindenburg bursts into flames appeared initially on WTOP.