With nearly 100 people on board, the Hindenburg airship was preparing to land at Lakehurst, N.J., on May 6, 1937. It never landed.
Terrified onlookers watched as the Hindenburg exploded and crashed to the ground in flames. 35 people on board died.
The cause of the explosion has been somewhat of a mystery since the incident. Now, 76 years later, experts think that they may have solved the riddle and found the culprit - static electricity.
A team of researchers, led by British aeronautical engineer Jem Stansfield, have been working out of the South West Research Institute in the US. The team blew up or set fire to scale models as part of their research. According to The Independent, the team was ruling out theories about the cause of the explosion. Some hypothesized a bomb caused the massive blowup. Others thought the explanation may have been that the Hindenburg’s paint had explosive properties.
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After the disaster it was concluded that a spark had ignited leaking gas, causing it to explode. However no one could ever agree on what caused the spark. It appears that now there is an answer.
"I think the most likely mechanism for providing the spark is electrostatic," said Stansfield. "That starts at the top, then the flames from our experiments would've probably tracked down to the centre. With an explosive mixture of gas, that gave the whoomph when it got to the bottom."
Airship historian Dan Grossman agrees. "I think that's exactly what happened. I think you had massive distribution of hydrogen throughout the aft half of the ship; you had an ignition source pull down into the ship, and that whole back portion of the ship went up almost at once."
Source: (The Independent)