‘Stunning’ new Hindenburg evidence is focus of documentary - Albuquerque Journal

‘Stunning’ new Hindenburg evidence is focus of documentary

The German passenger airship Hindenburg seconds after catching fire, May 6, 1937. (Everett Collection/Shutterstock)

It’s been 84 years since the Hindenburg disaster took place in New Jersey.

The German passenger airship caught fire and was destroyed during its attempt to dock at Naval Air Station Lakehurst on May 6, 1937. Thirty-seven people died in the accident.

A documentary by “Nova” called “Hindenburg: The New Evidence” will premiere at 8 p.m. Wednesday, May 19, on New Mexico PBS Channel 5.1. It is available to stream on the PBS Video App.

Gary Tarpinian is an executive producer on the project and says the new findings are extraordinary.

“It also says to me, as a producer, don’t let anyone tell you that there’s nothing new to be learned,” Tarpinian says. “We’re happy to be the ones that show the world something new on this tragic accident.”

For over 80 years, the cause of the spark that brought down the Hindenburg has eluded experts.

Theories about the airship’s fire ranging from deliberate sabotage to a spark generated by the stormy conditions are known.

Despite two official investigations into the accident — one American and one German — what sparked the fire has largely remained a mystery.

A scene from the documentary, Hindenburg: The New Evidence. (Courtesy of WGBH)

But newly discovered amateur footage of the crash shows the airship’s final seconds from a fresh angle — allowing historians for the first time to see the airship from nose to tail just after the fire breaks out.

Helming the new investigation are Lt. Col. Jason O. Harris, an Air Force veteran and commercial airline pilot trained in accident investigation, and aviation historian Dan Grossman, a bestselling author and world-renowned authority on Hindenburg and the 1937 investigations.

Their inquiry leads them from the Lakehurst, New Jersey, airfield where the Hindenburg crashed to the Zeppelin Museum Friedrichshafen in Germany to a Caltech laboratory in Pasadena.

Executive producer Gary Tarpinian

“Thanks to this stunning new footage, we were able to revive a cold case investigation surrounding one of the most iconic disasters of the 20th century,” Tarpinian says.

The original investigations into the Hindenburg crash concluded that the fire was a result of leaking hydrogen ignited by a spark, though the specific cause of the spark itself was never determined. Eyewitness accounts suggested that the fire started near the tail of the aircraft, but supporting evidence was hard to find. There’s no film capturing the moment of ignition — the press recordings of the disaster begin after the fire is well underway — and most physical evidence was destroyed immediately in the blaze. For over 80 years, the origin of the spark that doomed the Hindenburg has remained elusive — what exactly caused it, and where in the ship it occurred, both lost to history.

Tarpinian says film shot on an 8mm Kodak camera by an amateur cameraman named Harold Schenck was discovered recently.

Never seen by the original investigators, his footage shows the crash from a much wider angle, and crucially, captures Hindenburg’s landing approach, including the release of the ship’s landing ropes, which hit the ground four minutes before the fire began.

Although the footage does not show what ignited the hydrogen — the spark that doomed the Hindenburg — it does offer key clues.

After verifying the footage’s authenticity with experts, the team then reached out to Konstantinos Giapis, professor of chemical engineering at Caltech, to conduct specially designed experiments addressing the origin of the spark and the ropes’ conductivity. The rigorous tests result in the most compelling theories to date about how, where, and why the spark occurred and why it just so happened to be at the one spot where hydrogen was leaking.

“Our footage is the only known footage, and when you watch it, you see it crash, and it’s gone in 30 seconds,” he says. “One of the things that amazed me about this story is there were 97 people on board. This event was sort of the beginning of modern news.”

Tarpinian says the team is excited to bring to light the new evidence.

“The Hindenburg remains vivid in our collective memories all these years later because of the searing images and film of the explosion. Today, we are sadly accustomed to seeing catastrophic disasters unfold on screen, but for the public then, it was a completely novel experience,” says Chris Schmidt, “Nova” co-executive producer. “We feel honored to share this new footage with the world and to bring the “Nova” audience behind the scenes of this pivotal new investigation into the crash.”

Home » Entertainment » Arts » ‘Stunning’ new Hindenburg evidence is focus of documentary


Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email yourstory@abqjournal.com

taboola desktop

1
Wrongful death suit over vet's death settled
ABQnews Seeker
Lawsuit had alleged medical negligence at ... Lawsuit had alleged medical negligence at Truth or Consequences facility
2
BernCo extends manager's contract for another three years
ABQnews Seeker
New agreement also boosts annual salary ... New agreement also boosts annual salary from $195K to $215K
3
Courts look to alter cannabis expungement
ABQnews Seeker
Citing strain, chief justice says individuals ... Citing strain, chief justice says individuals should need to apply for process
4
$2.5 billion for fire damage relief included in spending ...
ABQnews Seeker
People, businesses and other groups, such ... People, businesses and other groups, such as acequias, can apply for relief
5
Netflix launches interactive site of its New Mexico productions
ABQnews Seeker
Netflix to launch interactive site of ... Netflix to launch interactive site of its New Mexico productions
6
County extends manager's contract for another three years
ABQnews Seeker
New agreement also boosts annual salary ... New agreement also boosts annual salary from $195K to $215K
7
Balloon Fiesta will have heftier security
ABQnews Seeker
Officials considered large-scale events elsewhere in ... Officials considered large-scale events elsewhere in the US
8
1 dead in reported shooting in Southwest Albuquerque
ABQnews Seeker
Witness says that a spray of ... Witness says that a spray of bullets came through a window
9
Floods trap many in Florida as Ian heads to ...
ABQnews Seeker
Rescue crews piloted boats and waded ... Rescue crews piloted boats and waded through inundated streets Thursday to save thousands of Floridians trapped amid flooded homes and shattered buildings left by ...