Monday, May 7

Bad Gas - "Oh, the Humanity"

 (Credit: Popperfoto/Getty Images)
By Grant Davies

On this day (-1) in 1937, the worst, second worst, okay, the third worst airship disaster in history took place. The German airship, Hindenburg, caught fire and burned to a crisp in about thirty seconds while attempting to dock at Lakehurst, New Jersey.

Because of the spectacular film footage and a dramatic eyewitness account of the tragedy most people today believe that it was the worst accident of its kind to occur. However, measured by loss of life, two others were even more horrific.

Anyone watching the footage or listening to the broadcast of WLS-AM (Chicago) reporter Herbert Morrison as he cried out in genuine anguish, "Oh, the humanity", while narrating the events, could be forgiven for thinking that no one could survive such a conflagration. But in fact, many more survived (62), than perished (36). 

The largest loss of life in an airship mishap was 73 men when the U.S. Navy airship, USS Akron, crashed into the ocean in a storm in 1933. Only three men survived. Further back, in 1930, a British military airship found tragedy and 48 lives were lost.

While it has never been indisputably proven exactly what caused the fire and subsequent crash, one thing is sure; the use of hydrogen - instead of the less flammable helium - to float the ship, certainly didn't help the poor souls who were burned to death in the fireball.

As hard as it is to believe, the ship actually had a smoking lounge. It must have made perfect sense (to someone) to burn some tobacco in the middle of a hydrogen balloon. And while smoking on board didn't cause the disaster, it only goes to show: although smoking is bad for your health in the long term, bad gas can kill you in thirty seconds.


Source material: History.com and Wikipedia

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