Never Before Seen Footage Captures the Hindenburg Disaster

The airship, or zeppelin, the Hindenburg had exploded on May 6, 1937, over Lakehurst, New Jersey. It had killed 13 passengers, 22 crew members, and one man on the ground. The hazard was filmed on that day by professional cameramen from the ground but had missed a crucial detail while filming, as it was filmed from another angle. New footage has come to light that contains all the answers to what exactly caused the explosion.

The Hindenburg Disaster
Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

It was the 79th memorial service for the lives lost in the Hindenburg disaster when Bob Schenck approached the aviation historian, Mr. Dan Grossman, with the footage captured by his uncle, Harold Schenck. He was not sure if Mr. Grossman would care to look at the footage.

Mr. Grossman did, in fact, show interest and watched the reel. He was amused and excited that they might have potentially figured out the mystery of the airship explosion. The new angle of the footage gave the answers to what might have led the Hindenburg to meet such a drastic end.

Break Apart the Reel and Put Together the Pieces of the Mystery

Harold Schenck was standing with the crowd waiting for the Hindenberg to arrive. He took out his wind-up camera and started shooting footage 2 minutes at a time. After he took the footage of the airship’s arrival, he put away his camera, but once the explosion began, he started shooting again, and his being a wind-up camera helped a lot.

The Hindenburg Disaster
Photo by FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty Images

In the particular footage captured by Mr. Schenck, a peculiar feature is brought to the eye of the researchers – Ropes. Before the landing and four minutes before the explosion, ropes were lowered onto the ground. Though this footage captured a critical piece of information, even this footage couldn’t capture the exact moment when the explosion was set off.

How Exactly Did the Explosion Occur

The Germans put up specific guidelines and clear instructions when dealing with an airship landing. As the Hindenberg was running a few minutes late, the crew lowered the ropes from a higher altitude in haste to be on time, resulting in a high landing.

Flames pour out of the Hindenburg as it falls to the ground.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The people investigating the explosion agree that a spark of static discharge triggered the explosion by interacting with a hydrogen tank. The sudden lowering of the ropes and the presence of a thunderstorm at that moment increased the risk of the static discharge, in turn leading to the explosion.

And Why Did the Press Cameras Miss Covering This Angle

The professional cameramen and the newsreel photographers were waiting for the ship to arrive and capture the people leaving the ship. Their shots were more of tight close-up ones. Their cameras were focused on either the bow or the nose of the ship, unlike that of Harold Schenck’s wind-up camera.

The Hindenburg took less than a minute to burn.
Photo by Central Press/Getty Images

Mr. Schenck’s camera initially captured a broader angle, fitting in both the airship’s nose and tail, which was up in flames. Thus, it captured the footage that the press could not. Grossman said that you get a clear sense of how it would be to see the explosion with your own eyes.

The Significance of This Incident and Lesson Learned

Grossman says that it is near impossible to operate a hydrogen-operated airship properly without any hazards when there is a thunderstorm. He also said that the crew should not have made haste and performed a high-altitude landing. High landings are always riskier than low landings and should not be opted for. All in all, it was a disaster that the airship’s operators could have prevented.

Shell Of The Hindenburg Zeppelin On Fire In Lakehurst 1937
Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

The Hindenburg airship’s disaster remains one of the worst and horrific things ever witnessed by the human eye. In the PBS documentary scheduled to come out in May 2021, this footage taken by Harold Schenck plays a significant role in explaining the explosion.