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Description

LZ 129 Hindenburg was a German zeppelin. Along with its sister-ship LZ 130 Graf Zeppelin II, it was the largest aircraft ever built. During its second year of service, it was destroyed by a fire while landing at Lakehurst Naval Air Station in Manchester, New Jersey, USA, on May 6, 1937. Thirty-six people perished in the accident, which was widely reported by film, photographic, and radio media.

The Hindenburg was named after Paul von Hindenburg (1847-1934), the President of Germany (1925–1934).

he Hindenburg was built by Luftschiffbau Zeppelin in 1935 to a new, all-duralumin design. It was 245 m long (804 ft) and 41 m in diameter (135 ft), longer than three Boeing 747s placed end to end and 78 feet (23.8m) shorter than the Titanic. It was originally equipped with cabins for 50 passengers and a crew complement of 61.

The Hindenburg was originally intended to be filled with helium, but a United States military embargo on helium led the Germans to modify the design of the ship to use flammable hydrogen as the lift gas. It contained 200,000 m³ (7,000,000 ft³) of gas in 16 bags or cells, with a useful lift of 1.099 MN (247,100 pounds).

Germany had extensive experience with hydrogen as lifting gas. Hydrogen-related fire accidents had never occurred on civil zeppelins, so the switch from helium to hydrogen did not cause much alarm. Hydrogen also gave the craft about 8% more lift capacity.

Four reversible 890 kW (1,200 horsepower) Daimler-Benz diesel engines gave the ship a maximum speed of 135 kmh (84 mph).

The duralumin frame was covered by cotton varnished with iron oxide and cellulose acetate butyrate impregnated with aluminium powder.

The total construction cost of the ship was £500,000 (US$2,500,000)[citation needed]. It made its first flight on March 4, 1936. The cost of a ticket from Germany to Lakehurst was US$400 (about US$5900 in 2006 dollars), a tremendous amount of money for the Depression era; however, the Hindenburg's passengers were generally of the affluent classes or leaders of industry.

To reduce drag, the passenger rooms were contained entirely within the hull, rather than in the gondola as on the Graf Zeppelin. The interior furnishings of the Hindenburg were designed by Professor Fritz Breuhaus, whose design experience included Pullman coaches, ocean liners, and warships of the German Navy. The upper A Deck contained small passenger quarters in the middle flanked by large public rooms: a dining room to port and a lounge and writing room to starboard. Paintings on the walls of the dining room portrayed the Graf Zeppelin's trips to South America. A stylized world map covered the wall of the lounge. Long slanted windows ran the length of both decks. The passengers were expected to spend most of their time in the public areas instead of their cramped cabins.

The lower B Deck contained washrooms, a mess hall for the crew, and a smoking lounge. Recalled Harold G. Dick, an American representative from the Goodyear Zeppelin Corporation, "The only entrance to the smoking room, which was pressurized to prevent the admission of any leaking hydrogen, was via the bar, which had a swiveling air-lock door, and all departing passengers were scrutinized by the bar steward to make sure they were not carrying out a lighted cigarette or pipe."

Disaster

On May 6, 1937, while under tow to dock at the Lakehurst Naval Air Station in Manchester, New Jersey, the Hindenburg caught fire. The rapidly spreading fire destroyed the airship and killed 36 passengers, crew and ground crewmen. The incident is widely remembered as one of the most dramatic accidents of modern time. The cause of the accident has never been determined although many theories, some highly controversial, have been proposed.

Historic newsreel coverage

The disaster is well recorded because of an extraordinary amount of newsreel coverage, photographs, and Herbert Morrison's recorded on-the-scene, eyewitness radio report from the landing field. The number of journalists present came as a response to a heavy publicity over the first transatlantic passenger flight of the year by zeppelin to the US. Morrison's recording was not broadcast until the next day. Parts of his report were later dubbed onto the newsreel footage, giving a false impression to many modern viewers, more accustomed to live television reporting, that the words and film were recorded together. Morrison's broadcast remains one of the most famous in history — his plaintive words, "Oh, the humanity!" resonate with the impact of the disaster.

There had been a series of other airship accidents, none of them Zeppelins, prior to the Hindenburg fire. Many were due to bad weather and most of these accidents were dirigibles of British and U. S. make, both of whom had only primitive technology in dirigible manufacture and had not yet accumulated the scientific expertise of the Germans. Zeppelins had an impeccable safety record; the Graf Zeppelin had flown safely for more than 1.6 million km (1 million miles), including making the first circumnavigation of the globe. The Zeppelin company was very proud of the fact that no passenger had ever been injured on one of their airships.

The Hindenburg accident shattered the public's faith in airships by the spectacular movie footage and Morrison's impassioned live voice recording from the scene. It marked the end of the giant, passenger-carrying rigid airships. Also contributing to the zeppelins' downfall was the arrival of international passenger airplane travel and Pan American Airlines. Planes regularly crossed the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean much faster than the 130 kmh (80 mph) of the Hindenburg. The one advantage that the Hindenburg had over airplanes was the comfort it afforded its passengers, much like that of an ocean liner.

Death toll

Most of the crew and passengers survived. Of 35 passengers and 61 crew, 13 passengers and 22 crew died. Also killed was one member of the ground crew, Navy Linesman Allen Hagaman. Most deaths did not arise from the fire but were suffered by those who leapt from the burning ship. (The lighter-than-air fire burned overhead.) Those passengers who rode the ship on its descent to the ground escaped unharmed. In comparison, almost twice as many perished when the helium-filled USS Akron crashed.