Memorial Service Honors Those Lost on Hindenburg

May 19th, 2009 by admin

Amemorial service was held last week to remember the individuals who perished in the Hindenburg disaster 72 years ago in Ocean County.

The memorial service was conducted by the Lakehurst Naval Historical Society and was held at the Hindenburg crash site near Hanger 1 at Naval Air Engineering Station Lakehurst.

Also honored at the ceremony were all of the military service members who died in the lighter-than-air service, those who died fighting the war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan, and historical society members who died during the past year since the last observance.

The Hindenburg tragedy occurred on May 6, 1937, as the hydrogen-filled German airship was arriving at the base.

“At 803.8 feet in length and 135.1 feet in diameter, the German passenger airship Hindenburg was the largest aircraft ever to fly,” said NAES Deputy Public Affairs Officer Lawrence Lyford. “The commercial flights of Hindenburg, along with Graf Zeppelin, pioneered the first transatlantic air service.”

In 1936 the Hindenburg came to the Navy base at Lakehurst 10 times, he said.

On May 6, 1937, the Hindenburg was eight hours late arriving at Lakehurst. It was raining that day and lightning strikes were in the area. The Hindenburg arrived at 3 p.m. and was instructed not to land. Instead, the airship flew up and down the New Jersey coast for four hours.

At 7 p.m. the Hindenburg was directed to come in for a landing at Lakehurst during a 45-minute break between thunder cells.

To most of the onlookers awaiting the arrival of the airship, the first sign that there was anything amiss came when a burst of flame appeared just forward of the upper fin.

Two thousand gallons of water ballast had been dumped to lighten the ship to raise the tail section minutes earlier, after the tail section had begun to ride low. Six crewmen on the airship were ordered to move as far forward as possible to add additional weight forward.

Lt. Cmdr. Rosendahl, the commanding officer at Lakehurst, reported that when the airship burst into flames it looked like a mushroom-shaped flower bursting speedily into bloom.

Between the first burst of fire and the airship’s crash onto the ground, only 34 seconds elapsed.

Robert Buchanan, who at that time was a Toms River High School senior and a member of the civilian line-handling crew, said he arrived at Lakehurst at 4 p.m.

“I was soaking wet from two heavy rains and was looking straight up at the bottom of the airship when I saw flames bursting out from before the tail section,” said Buchanan. “That’s all I saw as I ran a long way to get out from under the huge burning mass [coming down] over me before it crashed down. [Then] I turned back and saw the burning wreckage on the sand.”

The tail of the airship hit the ground first and then the rest of the Hindenburg settled down as the frame buckled and collapsed in on itself. There were 92 passengers on board, 72 of whom were considered to be VIPs.

Men and women, some with their clothes on fire, emerged from the inferno. Some crawled. Some ran. Some stumbled and fell. Sailors ran back to the remains of the airship and assisted those they could out of the wreckage or cabins.

The death toll added up to 13 passengers, 22 Hindenburg crewmen and one Lakehurst ground crewman.

Today, the military has learned from the experiences of the past.

“We in the military are stronger today because of our veterans in the past,” said Lt. Col. Ronald M. Tuczak, commander of the Mid-Atlantic Recruiting Battalion, stationed at Lakehurst. “How fitting it is that the cutting edge of aircraft magnetic launch and recovery development is taking place where once cutting-edge lighter-than-air technology was developed.”

One Response


    They’ve since found out that the Germans saturated and coated the fabric of the Hindy with ammonium perchlorate to reflect the sun and keep it cool(was on Discovery or Smithsonian Channel). The only thing they didn’t know is this would also be the main ingredient in solid rocket fuel in the future, so the skin of the dirigible burn off completely in 6 seconds(like a rocket engine igniting) and it wasn’t the hydrogen that caused the problem.

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