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Hindenburg Remembered: Inside The Disaster

Time has a way of softening memory. But the detonation, disintegration and death in Lakehurst 75 years ago when the airship Hindenburg burned remains sharply etched in the minds of the few still alive who witnessed it.

What triggered it? The exact answers died along with the 35 on board and one on the ground that day. Sabotage wasn’t ruled out for a long time, given the era’s turbulent global politics just before World War II. But science offers more plausible theories.

Carl Jablonski, President of the Navy Lakehurst Historical Society, has spent much of his life researching the possibilities and probabilities.

It was rainy, windy and cool – not optimum conditions for a lighter-than-air vessel to maneuver. The Hindenburg traditionally completed the two-and-a-half-day trip from Frankfurt to Lakehurst around dawn. But battling headwinds, the airship was running 12 hours behind schedule, and aiming to dock near 7 PM.

Explosion Over Lakehurst (Navy Lakehurst Historical Society)

“As they got closer to New Jersey, the weather got worse,” Carl relates. “There were all kinds of storms in the area…thunder…lightning…rain…wind. They were put into a holding pattern.”

Finally, he continues, the Navy Lakehurst commander radioed the crew that they had about one hour in which to bring the dirigible to its mooring mast. It’s said that the small window prompted unorthdox maneuvers.

“They made several sharp turns,” says Carl. “During one of these turns, it’s alleged that one of the guy wires in one of the [Hindenburg's 16 hydrogen] gas cells broke and formed a pocket of gas that leaked out. Because they were flying at a low altitude, the gas did not dissipate.”

“When they lowered the landing ropes, which were wet from the rains,” says Carl, “a static spark is said to have occurred and found this pocket of gas. A small flame began, turned into a larger flame, and went through the 16 cells of hydrogen gas – about 7,000,000 cubic feet of it…in 34 seconds.”

The conflagration killed 35 people on board and one on the ground.

Not all of the few remaining survivors have been able to shake the trauma. Those who can, and the sons and daughters of other passengers and crew members, meet for dinner Saturday May 5 at the Clarion on Route 37 in Toms River.  The event serves as a fundraiser to help the small group of volunteer archivists continue their work at Hangar One. If $40 is not too high a price for you to spend a congenial evening among people with direct connections to a world-changing event, you’re invited.

The Smoldering Aftermath (Navy Lakehurst Historical Society)

You can also take part in the annual memorial service at the Joint Base, Sunday May 6. It’s a rare occasion when members of the general public can step onto the base.

Get details at http://www.nlhs.com.

 

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