Oh, The Humanity!

The physics behind The Hindenburg disaster by Josh Topper

On May 6, 1997, the enormous German zeppelin, The Hindenburg, began docking in Lakehurst, New Jersey from Germany. The Hindenburg was behind schedule by a few hours due to a storm that passed through New Jersey that day. At 7:21 pm the mooring lines were dropped to the ground crew below and began to be lowered. At 7:25 pm was the first sighting of flames seen on the rear upper fin. Within seconds the Hindenburg was engulfed in flames.     

Of the 97 people on board(36 passengers and 61 crewmen) most miraculously survived the inferno with a total of 36 dead.

No one knows for sure what caused the Hindenburg disaster but there are several theories as to what started the fire which include sparks from loose supports, engine failure and lightning strike. But recently, a newer hypothesis called the St. Elmo's fire theory has been heavily supported both by evidence and historians. St. Elmo's Fire occur's when bright plasma is created from a discharge from a sharp object inside the atmosphere and is usually generated by thunderstorms (side note: Many Renaissance age explorers noticed it on their masts while at sea). Witnesses reported seeing bright blue flickering near the top rear fin before the airship caught fire.

Assuming that St. Elmo's Fire was the cause, combustion by electricity is what led tp the Hindenburg disaster.

New policies were few and far between as this marked the end of the airship era thanks to on the scene photography and video, the popularity of airships completely faltered but it did force the United States to regulate it's Hydrogen monopoly since it was claimed that if America allowed Germany to buy some of their Hydrogen the fire may have dispersed faster. In reality, we know today that is a high hope.

Citations:

National Geographic

Mythbusters' episode 70

Youtube of Herb Morison's Famous Coverage

Life Magazine

Comment Stream