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Why did the dirigible Hindenburg explode?

Learn about the history of the Hindenburg blimp and why it exploded.

An illustration of a dirigible much like the Hindenburg. [©2008. Jupiter Images]
©2008. Jupiter Images
An illustration of a dirigible much like the Hindenburg.

Despite the official United States and German investigations into the explosion, the mystery of why the dirigible, The Hindenberg, exploded still remains a mystery today.

The most plausible explanations are structural failure, St. Elmo's Fire, static electricity, or sabotage. The Hindenburg, built following the great initial success of the Graf Zeppelin, was intended to exceed all other airships in size, speed, safety, comfort, and economy. At 803 feet (244.75 meters) long, it was 80 percent as long as the liner Queen Mary, and it was 135 feet (41.1 meters) in diameter.

In 1935, the German Air Ministry virtually took over the Zeppelin Company to use it to spread Nazi propaganda. After its first flight in 1936, the airship was very popular with the flying public. No other form of transport could carry passengers so swiftly, reliably, and comfortably between continents.

During 1936, 1,006 passengers flew over the North Atlantic Ocean in the Hindenburg. On May 6, 1937, while landing at Lakehurst, New Jersey, its hydrogen burst into flames, and the airship was completely destroyed. Of the 97 people aboard, 62 survived.

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