No One Survived the Hindenburg Disaster

No one survived the Hindenburg disaster.

Don’t Believe That!

Anyone who has viewed the shocking 1937 newsreel footage of the Hidenburg disaster would make the obvious assumption that all on board perished. In fact, nearly two-thirds survived!

The Hindenburg, 804 feet long, was the largest aircraft ever flown and nearly as long as the similarly ill-fated Titanic. Contrary to another very common myth, and unlike the Titanic, the Hindenburg did not crash on its maiden voyage. The airship had made 18 prior successful trips before it departed from Frankfurt, Germany to New Jersey in May of 1937, carrying thirty-six passengers and sixty-one crew members.

After reaching its destination and while attempting to dock at a mooring tower, the Hindenburg caught fire and was quickly engulfed in flames. The rear of the zeppelin imploded, causing two tanks to burst out of the hull. This shift in buoyancy made the bow point nearly straight upward, gradually descending as the remaining hydrogen gas burned away. All of this occurred in less than 40 seconds. Nonetheless, many on board were able to jump or run to safety before the structure completely collapsed. Of the 97 passengers and crew, 62 amazingly survived.

Dispelling yet another myth, the Hindenburg was not the worst airship disaster of all time. That honor goes to the U.S. Navy’s USS Akron, which crashed four years earlier, killing 73 of 76 on board. The Hindenburg’s special notoriety is due, at least in part, to the very extensive press coverage of the incident (a large number of journalists were invited to witness the Hindenburg’s first transatlantic passenger flight). Of particular cultural impact was Herbert Morrison’s unforgettable verbal account on WLS radio: “Oh, the humanity…” The disaster effectively ended the age of airship travel.

Bonus Fact #1: The cause of the fire was not the hydrogen inside the blimp but rather the highly flammable mixture of iron oxide, cellulose acetate and powdered aluminum on the aircraft’s outer skin.

Bonus Fact #2: The last living survivor of the Hindenburg, 87-year-old Werner Doehner, was an eight-year-old child traveling with his parents at the time of the accident.


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