"Hindenburg" crash site
The place where one of the most iconic disasters in aviation history happened when the German zeppelin Hindenburg burst into flames on landing at a Navy base in Lakehurst, New Jersey, USA
, on 6 May 1937, killing 36. As Nazi Germany
had no access to helium, they used highly flammable hydrogen to keep their zeppelins afloat (i.e. in the air). This backfired, quite literally, at Lakehurst.
The exact reasons for the disaster aren't 100% clear, but it is often presumed that the Hindenburg became electrically charged during a thunderstorm and that the discharge on making contact with the ground may have created a spark that ignited the hydrogen. It wasn't an explosion, rather the fire sped along the skin of the airship in seconds (suggesting that the material it was made of played a crucial exacerbating role) and a fireball emerged and engulfed the entire structure which then collapsed on the ground with people trying to run from under it.
The film of the disaster made the disastrous spectacle known to the entire world. And the image of the half ablaze zeppelin as its tail is dropping from the landing tower is one of the most recognizable in photographic history. The rock group Led Zeppelin, whose first album showed a version of the Hindenburg crash image, also transported it into popular culture.
The disaster also marked the end of the era of the zeppelin, of which the Hindenburg had been the most magnificent example at over 800 feet (244m) length. But after the crash, confidence in this luxurious mode of transport had been crushed together with the actual airship.
Given the high profile of the disaster to this day, it is surprising that there is hardly anything to commemorate it at the site. There's a lone marker in the shape of a white zeppelin silhouette on a pole and a chain on the ground marks part of the area where the Hindenburg control gondola came down – in the middle of a vast empty expanse. But the spot is still on the grounds of a military restricted area of an active Navy base and for the general public there is no access. US citizens (only!) can apply for an escorted tour conducted by the Navy Lakehurst Historical Society (phone 732-818-7520) but must be screened weeks in advance. The tour may also take in the giant hangar that the Hindenburg would have gone in, and which today houses a few Hindenburg-artefacts (and lots of empty space).
The site is located in the eastern parts of Lakehurst Navy base, at 2650 Route 547, Lakehurst, NJ – about 40 miles (64 km) east of Philadelphia
, and about 50 miles (80 km) south of New York
The photo above was obviously not taken at the site itself (which as a non-US citizen I can't visit) but at the Udvar Hazy branch of the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.
(see under Enola Gay
). The display includes a scorched girder element and a ladder salvaged from the Hindenburg wreck after the disaster.