The arrival of the Hindenburg, thirteen hours behind schedule, at Lakehurst,
New Jersey, on the evening of May 6, 1937, promised to be routine. The ship
had an unblemished safety record on eighteen previous Atlantic crossings. In
it was sudden. Without warning flames gushed from within the Hindenburg’s
hull; thirty-two seconds later the airship lay on the ground, ravaged. Never
burning, bursting into flames, and it’s falling on the mooring mast and all
humanity and all the passengers!(Marben 58)" When this floating cathedral,
an end to the short age of these massive airships.
The demise of the Hindenburg had a searing impact on public consciousness
that far surpassed the bare statistics of the calamity. Men and women
exit as though nothing had happened and was unscratched. A fourteen-year-old
cabin boy jumped to the ground into flames and smoke. He was almost
unconscious from the fumes when a water-ballast bag collapsed over his head.
He got out. One passenger hacked his way through a jungle of hot metal
using his bare hands. Another emerged safely, only to have another passenger
to jump to safety, went back into the flames to his wife, both died. The
final count was 36 dead, including 13 passengers. Nearly two thirds, of the
name Hindenburg became comparable only to the name Titanic(Abbott 69).
Of all airship crashes, Hindenburg’s remains the most mysterious and the
most contentious, partially because of its fame. Many theorists were
attracted to the idea of sabotage. An incendiary device could have been
the keel as well as a ventilation shaft to fan the flames(124). The most
attractive aspect of the sabotage theory is timing. Had the airship arrived
on time at six o’clock in the morning a bomb timed for after seven p.m. would
not have caused the horrifying casualties(125). In the absence of any real
evidence to support the theory, some have been tempted to provide the villain
suspect a certain passenger(125). Others have chosen members of the crew.
But not only did the American investigators fail to find any evidence of
sabotage, the Gestapo investigation was equally negative. Unconvinced by
this, some of the sabotage theorists have made the whole thing into a Nazi
various causes. The very slow approach-speed of the airship, after valving
gas, might well have left some gas residue in the shafts. The tail
heaviness, noticed by the elevator man, might have been the result of a gas
leak(Abbott 251). The only other necessary ingredient is the spark. Both
American and German investigators agreed that some form of static discharge
was the source of the fire(250).
The burning of the Hindenburg made it clear once and for all that dirigible
airships’ remaining loyalists were abandoned, along with Gill Robb Wilson,
the landing supervisor at Lakehurst that fateful evening, "Those of us long
in the air know what it is to reach out in salute to the embodiment of our
hopes, and suddenly find our fingers filled with ashes(Marben 59)."