A: Air-crash investigations in the U.S. and Germany concluded that a spark ignited leaking hydrogen, but they could neither agree on the cause of the spark nor prove the hydrogen leaked. At the time, many were convinced it was sabotage.
The Atlantic Magazine
Last Sunday, May 6, marked the 75th anniversary of the 1937 Hindenburg disaster. The massive German airship caught fire while attempting to land near Lakehurst, New Jersey, killing 35 people aboard, plus one ground crew member.
Of the 97 passengers and crew members on board, 62 managed to survive. The horrifying incident was captured by reporters and photographers and replayed on radio broadcasts, in newsprint, and on newsreels.
News of the disaster led to a public loss of confidence in airship travel, ending an era. The 245 m (803 f) Hindenburg used flammable hydrogen for lift, which incinerated the airship in a massive fireball, but the actual cause of the initial fire remains unknown.
The German zeppelin Hindenburg flies over Manhattan on May 6, 1937. A few hours later, the ship burst into flames in an attempt to land at Lakehurst, New Jersey, (AP Photo) See collection of 24 amazing photos below.
Finishing touches are applied to the A/S Hindenburg in the huge German construction hangar at Friedrichshafen. Workmen, dwarfed in comparison with the ship’s huge tail surfaces, are chemically treating the fabric covering the huge hull. (San Diego Air & Space Museum) #
The steel skeleton of “LZ 129″, the new German airship, under construction in Friedrichshafen. The airship would later be named after the late Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg, former President of Germany. (Deutsches Bundesarchiv/German Federal Archive) #
The Hindenburg dumps water to ensure a smoother landing in Lakehurst, New Jersey, on May 9, 1936. The airship made 17 round trips across the Atlantic Ocean in 1936, transporting 2,600 passengers in comfort at speeds up to 135 km/h (85 mph). The Zeppelin Company began constructing the Hindenburg in 1931, several years before Adolf Hitler’s appointment as German Chancellor. For the 14 months it operated, the airship flew under the newly-changed German national flag, the swastika flag of the Nazi Party. (AP Photo) #
Spectators and ground crew surround the gondola of the Hindenburg as the lighter-than-air ship prepares to depart the U.S. Naval Station at Lakehurst, New Jersey, on May 11, 1936, on a return trip to Germany. (AP Photo) #
The Hindenburg trundles into the U.S. Navy hangar, its nose hooked to the mobile mooring tower, at Lakehurst, New Jersey, on May 9, 1936. The rigid airship had just set a record for its first north Atlantic crossing, the first leg of ten scheduled round trips between Germany and America. (AP Photo) #
The German-built zeppelin Hindenburg is shown from behind, with the Swastika symbol on its tail wing, as the dirigible is partially enclosed by its hangar at the U.S. Navy Air Station in Lakehurst, New Jersey, May 9, 1936. (AP Photo) #
At approximately 7:25 p.m. local time, the German zeppelin Hindenburg burst into flames as it nosed toward the mooring post at the Naval Air Station in Lakehurst, New Jersey, on May 6, 1937. The airship was still some 200 feet above the ground. (AP Photo/Murray Becker) #
The Hindenburg quickly went up in flames — less than a minute passed between the first signs of trouble and complete disaster. This image captures a moment between the second and third explosions before the airship hit the ground. (AP Photo) #
As the lifting Hydrogen gas burned and escaped from the rear of the Hindenburg, the tail dropped to the ground, sending a burst of flame punching through the nose. Ground crew below scatter to flee the inferno. (AP Photo) #
Major Hans Hugo Witt of the German Luftwaffe, who was severely burned in the Hindenburg disaster, is seen as he is transferred from Paul Kimball Hospital in Lakewood, New Jersey, to another area hospital, on May 7, 1937. (AP Photo) #
Adolf Fisher, an injured mechanic from the German airship Hindenburg, is transferred from Paul Kimball Hospital in Lakewood, New Jersey, to an ambulance going to another area hospital, on May 7, 1937. (AP Photo) #
In New York City, funeral services for the 28 Germans who lost their lives in the Hindenburg disaster are held on the Hamburg-American pier, on May 11, 1937. About 10,000 members of German organizations lined the pier. (AP Photo/Anthony Camerano) #
German soldiers give the salute as they stand beside the casket of Capt. Ernest A. Lehmann, former commander of the zeppelin Hindenburg, during funeral services held on the Hamburg-American pier in New York City, on May 11, 1937. The swastika-draped caskets were placed on board the SS Hamburg for their return to Europe. (AP Photo/Anthony Camerano) #
Surviving members of the crew aboard the ill-fated German zeppelin Hindenburg are photographed at the Naval Air station in Lakehurst, New Jersey, on May 7, 1937. Rudolph Sauter, chief engineer, is at center wearing white cap; behind him is Heinrich Kubis, a steward; Heinrich Bauer, watch officer, is third from right wearing black cap; and 13-year-old Werner Franz, cabin boy, is center front row. Several members of the airship’s crew are wearing U.S. Marine summer clothing furnished them to replace clothing burned from many of their bodies as they escaped from the flaming dirigible. (AP Photo) #