This Day in History, May 6, 1937

Originally published May 6, 2015

The storm clouds of war in Europe were gathering in 1937, but the United States and Germany were opening a season of regular passenger service between Frankfort and Lakehurst NJ. The Hindenburg, the largest airship ever made, was on its way to a landing.

Suddenly, just as the mooring lines were being secured at the nose, the rear section burst into a ball of fire. It took no more than 35 seconds for the fire to engulf the entire ship, killing 36. Passengers and crew members sustained serious burns and broken bones jumping for their lives. Flammable hydrogen gas was used for boyancy. Bad choice.

Public confidence was shattered and the airship era came to an abrupt end. Modern blimps are nowhere near as large, and use safe helium.

The last surviving crew member, Werner Franz, above, was a 14 year old cabin boy. Franz died last August at the age of 92. Two passengers of the crash are still living. They were children that were dropped to ground by their parents from the passenger cabin

A lengthy inquiry was made to determine the cause of the fire. A plausible case was made that the ship was being maneuvered quite hard because of windy conditions, and an internal guy wire snapped, cutting into one of the hydrogen gas bags.