Mystery of Hindenburg crash solved

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

The dream was a fleet of hydrogen-filled airships criss-crossing the globe. And for a while the fantasy became reality, for the Hindenburg was the Concorde of its day - able to cross the Atlantic in about three days, twice as fast as going by sea.

With nearly 100 on board, the 245m airship was preparing to land at Lakehurst, New Jersey, on May 6, 1937, when the Hindenburg exploded and plunged to the ground in flames. Thirty-five of those on board died.

Now, 76 years later, a team of experts claims to have solved one of the greatest mysteries of the 20th century: the real cause of the Hindenburg air disaster. And they name static electricity as the culprit.

Led by a British aeronautical engineer, Jem Stansfield, and based at the South West Research Institute in the US, the team blew up or set fire to scale models more than 24m long, in an attempt to rule out theories ranging from a bomb planted by a terrorist to explosive properties in the paint used to coat the Hindenburg.

Investigations after the disaster concluded that a spark had ignited leaking hydrogen gas, but could not agree on what caused the spark, or the leaking gas.

In a documentary being broadcast on British TV on Friday, experts reveal the sequence of events that triggered the explosion.

The airship had become charged with static as a result of an electrical storm. A broken wire or sticking gas valve leaked hydrogen into the ventilation shafts, and when ground crew members ran to take the landing ropes they effectively "earthed" the airship.

- Independent

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