At the Peak of Disaster

Photograph/Gus Pasquerella Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Photograph/Gus Pasquerella Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

This story was originally published in June 2014.

The German airship LZ 129 Hindenburg was destroyed on 6 May 1937, while attempting to dock at the Lakehurst Naval Air Station, New Jersey, USA. The zeppelin was engulfed in flames in just over 30 seconds, killing 36 people. The incident became iconic because of the historic news coverage it received. While this photograph was made by Gus Pasquarella of the Philadelphia Bulletin, a local newspaper, three other photographers—Sam Shere, Charles Hoff and Bill Springfield—shot a nearly identical frame. Each these photographs showcased the peak of the explosion. As they were unable to leave the scene, their film rolls were given to motorcycle messengers who rushed the rolls to the offices of their respective publications.

Sabotage became the most common theory, initially suggested by Hugo Eckener, former head of Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH, the company that had built the airship. However, later he acknowledged a theory that suggested that the spark was caused by a buildup of static electricity, which caused the lifting gas hydrogen to ignite.

Whether the event was a result of sabotage or a freak disaster, the incident shattered public faith and marked an end to the era of these massive airships.

Tags: 6 May 1937, Gus Pasquarella, Hindenburg Disaster, Lakehurst Naval Air Station, LZ 129 Hindenburg, New Jersey, October 2011, Story Behind the Picture, USA