It’s May 6, 1937, and a crowd of spectators eagerly watches the skies over Lakehurst, New Jersey. Above them, the great airship Hindenburg is preparing to berth, casting out its long ropes into the gathering rain. But in a flash, the scene turns into a disaster of epic proportions – a catastrophe that will doom a promised new era of travel before it has barely begun.
Luxury in the skies
For more than a year, the Hindenburg has been carrying passengers successfully across the Atlantic, providing a more luxurious and genteel alternative to the early days of airplane travel. The vessel seems like the first step to an exciting new future. On this trip, almost 100 people are on board the airship, taking a three-day journey from Germany to the United States.
Disaster just around the corner
As they soar between continents, the passengers of the Hindenburg relax in surroundings akin to those on an ocean liner, with a comfortable dining room and even a lounge for smoking. But as they approach the end of their journey, something goes wrong. And within moments, their airborne adventure has turned into a nightmare that many will not survive.
Dreams of the future
By the time the Hindenburg left Germany on its fateful flight, many experts worldwide were lauding airships as the future of long-distance travel. In fact, the excitement surrounding these unlikely craft had begun at the turn of the century, when the German-built Zeppelin LZ 1 successfully took to the skies. For modern people, it can be difficult to understand how cutting-edge this technology was for its time.
Up in the air
To put this aerial revolution in perspective: it would be another three years before the Wright brothers would achieve powered flight in their prototype airplane. However, the vast airships took a different approach. A type of lighter-than-air craft, they used a lifting gas — a substance with less density than the air around it — in order to take off.