Thursday, May 06, 2010
Shortly after 7:25 PM on this day in 1937, during the second transatlantic flight of its second season in service*, a German zeppelin named Hindenburg helmed by Captain Max Pruss spectacularly crashed and burned while docking at Lakehurst Naval Air Station in Manchester Township, New Jersey. Of the 36 passengers and 61 crew on board, 13 passengers and 22 crew died; 1 member of the ground crew was also killed, bringing the day's death toll to 36. It took less than a minute for the ship to be completely engulfed in flames and destroyed; the cause of the blaze has never been sufficiently determined.
Much of the hyperbole concerning the disaster comes from radio commentator Herbert Morrison's live coverage of the airship's arrival. The first half of his broadcast contains the famous lines 'Oh the humanity' and is made all the more compelling by the emotion in Morrison's voice; during the second half of his recording however, which takes place after he'd had time to compose himself, he was sounding more circumspect and considerably calmer. Morrison's audio recording, however, was manipulated after the fact; not only was it sped up (to give it a more frantic tone) it was later paired with filmed footage of the disaster, misrepresenting the event for mass consumption.
No matter... Of all the damage done that day the worst of it was to public confidence in airships; despite the fact that a single airplane crash can claim many times the lives lost in the Hindenburg Disaster and whereas the Graf Zeppelin had flown 1.6 million km (1 million miles) including a circumnavigation of the globe without incident air and noise polluting planes soon came to dominate the aviation industry, as well as claiming untold hectarage of precious arable land for airports.
*It had already flown from Germany to Brazil and back at the end of March 1937 in addition to 17 round trips across the Atlantic Ocean in 1936 for a total of 308,323 km (191,583 miles) with 2,798 passengers and 160 tons of freight and mail. All without incident.
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