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Hindenburg disaster


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Jason Vorhees
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« Reply #60 on: November 23, 2009, 02:57:07 pm »

Sabotage theory

At the time of the disaster, sabotage was commonly put forward as the cause of the fire, initially by Hugo Eckener, former head of the Zeppelin company and the "old man" of German airships. (Eckener later publicly endorsed the static spark theory — see below.) Eckener, who was at the time on a lecture tour in Austria, was awakened at about 2:30 in the morning (8:30 PM Lakehurst time, or approximately an hour after the crash) by the ringing of his bedside telephone. It was a Berlin representative of the New York Times with news that the Hindenburg "exploded yesterday evening at 7 p.m [sic] above the airfield at Lakehurst." The newsman had no additional details for Dr. Eckener at that time, and Eckener spent a sleepless night trying to make sense of what he'd been told. By the time he left the hotel the next morning to travel to Berlin for a briefing on the disaster, the only answer that he had for the reporters waiting outside to question him was that based on what he knew, that the Hindenburg had "exploded over the airfield", sabotage might be a possibility. However, as he learned more about the disaster, particularly that the airship had burned rather than actually "exploding", he grew more and more convinced that static discharge, rather than sabotage, was the actual culprit.[11] However there is also the theory that the hydrogen wasn't the initial source of the fire, seeing as hydrogen does not make visible flames. There is confirmed evidence that the coating on the ship contained highly flammable materials such as cellulose nitrate and aluminum flecks.
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Jason Vorhees
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« Reply #61 on: November 23, 2009, 02:58:07 pm »

Commander Charles Rosendahl, commander of the Naval Air Station at Lakehurst and the man in overall charge of the ground-based portion of the Hindenburg's landing maneuver, also came to believe that the Hindenburg had been sabotaged. He actually laid out a general case for sabotage in his 1938 book What About the Airship?,[12] which was as much an extended argument for the further development of the rigid airship as it was an historical overview of the airship.

Another proponent of the sabotage hypothesis was Max Pruss, commander of the Hindenburg throughout the airship's career. Pruss flew on nearly every flight of the Graf Zeppelin until the Hindenburg was ready. In a 1960 interview conducted by Kenneth Leish for Columbia University's Oral History Research Office, Pruss said early dirigible travel was safe, and therefore he strongly believed that sabotage was to blame. He stated that on trips to South America, which was a popular destination for German tourists, both airships passed through thunderstorms and were struck by lightning but remained unharmed.[13]
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Jason Vorhees
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« Reply #62 on: November 23, 2009, 02:58:26 pm »

In 1962, A. Hoehling published Who Destroyed the Hindenburg?, a book that rejects all theories but sabotage. The book even names Eric Spehl, a rigger on the Hindenburg who died in the fire, as the saboteur.

Hoehling claimed the following in naming Spehl as the culprit:

    * Spehl's girlfriend had communist beliefs and anti-Nazi connections.
    * The fire's origin was near the catwalk running through Gas Cell 4, which was an area of the ship generally off-limits to anyone other than Spehl and his fellow riggers.
    * Rumors that the Gestapo had investigated Spehl's possible involvement in 1938.
    * Spehl's interest in amateur photography, making him familiar with flashbulbs that could have served as an igniter.
    * The discovery by representatives of the NYPD Bomb Squad of a substance that was later determined to likely be "the insoluble residue from the depolarizing element of a small, dry battery." (Hoehling postulated that a dry cell battery could have powered a flashbulb in an incendiary device.)
    * The discovery by FBI Agents of a yellow substance on the valve cap of the airship between cells 4 and 5 where the fire was first reported. Some have suggested this to be sulfur, which can ignite hydrogen. (However, a further investigation into this suggested that the residue was actually from a fire extinguisher in the stern of the ship.)
    * A flash or a bright reflection that crew members near the lower fin had seen just before the fire.
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Jason Vorhees
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« Reply #63 on: November 23, 2009, 02:59:03 pm »

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« Reply #64 on: November 23, 2009, 02:59:21 pm »

Ten years later, Michael MacDonald Mooney's book, The Hindenburg, which was based heavily on Hoehling's sabotage theory, also identified Spehl as the saboteur. Mooney's book was made into the movie The Hindenburg, whose producers were sued by Hoehling for plagiarism, but Hoehling lost due to the fact that he had presented his sabotage theory as historical fact, and one cannot claim ownership of historical facts.[14]

Hoehling's (and later Mooney's) theory goes on to say that it is unlikely that Spehl wanted to kill people, and that he intended for the airship to burn after the landing instead. However, with the ship already over 12 hours late, Spehl was in the end unable to find an excuse to reset the timer on his bomb.
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Jason Vorhees
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« Reply #65 on: November 23, 2009, 03:01:11 pm »

During the landing maneuver, rigger Hans Freund dropped a landing line in front of the lower fin. The line became caught in the bracing wires of the airship, so No. 2 helmsman Helmut Lau climbed up from the lower fin to release it. When both men looked up toward the front of the airship, they were surprised by what they saw.

Freund described a flash like a flashbulb's, and Lau said he saw a brilliant reflection between cells 4 and 5. They then heard a muffled detonation and a thud as the Hindenburg's back broke. Some believe that this is evidence for sabotage. Others believe Freund was actually looking rearward, away from cells 4 and 5, but that Rudolf Sauter, another crew member in the lower fin had seen the flash.[15]
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« Reply #66 on: November 23, 2009, 03:05:16 pm »

Since the publication of Hoehling's book, most airship historians, including Dr. Douglas Robinson, have dismissed Hoehling's sabotage theory because no solid evidence was ever presented to support it. No pieces of a bomb were ever discovered (and in fact there is no evidence in existing documentation that the sample collected from the wreckage, and determined to be residue from a dry cell battery, was found anywhere near the stern of the airship,) and on closer examination the evidence against Spehl and his girlfriend turned out to be largely circumstantial.
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« Reply #67 on: November 23, 2009, 03:05:32 pm »

Another suspect favored by Commander Rosendahl, Captain Pruss, and several others among the Hindenburg's crew, was a passenger, a German acrobat named Joseph Späh, who survived the fire. He brought with him a dog, a German shepherd named Ulla, as a surprise for his children. (Ulla did not survive.) He reportedly made a number of unaccompanied visits to feed his dog, who was being kept in a freight room near the stern of the ship. Those who suspected Späh based their suspicions primarily on those trips into the ship's interior to feed his dog, that according to some of the stewards Späh had told anti-Nazi jokes during the flight, recollections by stewards that Späh had seemed agitated by the repeated delays in landing, and that he was an acrobat who could conceivably climb into the airship's rigging to plant a bomb. As with the allegations about Erich Spehl however, the evidence against Joseph Späh was entirely circumstantial.
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« Reply #68 on: November 23, 2009, 03:06:00 pm »

It has even been suggested that Adolf Hitler himself ordered the Hindenburg to be destroyed in retaliation for Eckener's anti-Nazi opinions.[16]

However, opponents of the sabotage hypothesis argued that only speculation supported sabotage as a cause of the fire, and no credible evidence of sabotage was produced at any of the formal hearings.

Eric Spehl died in the fire and was therefore unable to refute the accusations that surfaced a quarter of a century later. The FBI investigated Joseph Späh and reported finding no evidence of Späh having any connection to a sabotage plot. According to his wife, Evelyn, Späh was quite upset over the accusations - she later recalled that her husband was outside their home cleaning windows when he first learned that he was suspected of sabotaging the Hindenburg, and was so shocked by the news that he almost fell off the ladder on which he was standing.[17]
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Jason Vorhees
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« Reply #69 on: November 23, 2009, 03:07:05 pm »

Neither the German nor the American investigation endorsed any of the sabotage theories. Proponents of the sabotage theory argue that any finding of sabotage would have been an embarrassment for the Nazi regime, and they speculate that such a finding by the German investigation was suppressed for political reasons.

Eckener believed that the reason why Pruss, Lehmann, and Rosendahl supported sabotage was because they may have felt guilty for their acts. Pruss made the sharp turn, Lehmann pressured Pruss to make it, and Rosendahl called the airship in.[18]
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Jason Vorhees
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« Reply #70 on: November 23, 2009, 03:07:20 pm »

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« Reply #71 on: November 23, 2009, 03:08:18 pm »

Static spark theory

Addison Bain and others posit that the fire was started by a spark caused by a build up of static electricity on the airship.[19] The spark ignited hydrogen or the outer skin (see Incendiary paint theory below).

Proponents of the static spark theory point out that the airship's skin was not constructed in a way that allowed its charge to be distributed evenly throughout the craft. The skin was separated from the duralumin frame by non conductive ramie cords which had been lightly covered in metal to improve conductivity, however not very effectively, allowing a large difference in potential to form between them.

In order to make up for the delay of more than 12 hours in its transatlantic flight, the Hindenburg passed through a weather front of high humidity and high electrical charge. The storm could have made the airship's mooring lines wet and thus conductive, and may also have built up an electrical charge in its skin. The mooring lines also could have gotten wet as a light rain continued to fall at Lakehurst.
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Jason Vorhees
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« Reply #72 on: November 23, 2009, 03:08:36 pm »

When the wet mooring lines, which were connected to the frame, touched the earth they would have grounded the frame but not the skin. This would have caused a sudden potential difference between skin and frame (and the airship itself with the overlying air masses) and would have set off an electrical discharge — a spark. The spark would have jumped from the skin onto the metal framework. At the same time, it’s also possible that hydrogen, either released during landing, or perhaps built up due to a leak (which some[who?] claim could be the reason the ship was stern-heavy and had to drop so much water prior to attempting a landing), was in turn ignited by the spark.

In his 1964 book, LZ-129 Hindenburg, Zeppelin historian Dr. Douglas Robinson points out that although ignition of free hydrogen by static discharge had become a favored theory, no such discharge was seen by any of the witnesses who testified at the official investigation into the accident back in 1937. He goes on to write:
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« Reply #73 on: November 23, 2009, 03:08:46 pm »

But within the past year, I have located an observer, Professor Mark Heald of Princeton, New Jersey, who undoubtedly saw St. Elmo's Fire flickering along the airship's back a good minute before the fire broke out. Standing outside the main gate to the Naval Air Station, he watched, together with his wife and son, as the Zeppelin approached the mast and dropped her bow lines. A minute thereafter, by Mr. Heald's estimation, he first noticed a dim "blue flame" flickering along the backbone girder about one-quarter the length abaft the bow to the tail. There was time for him to remark to his wife, "Oh, heavens, the thing is afire," for her to reply, "Where?" and for him to answer, "Up along the top ridge" - before there was a big burst of flaming hydrogen from a point he estimated to be about one-third the ship's length from the stern.[20]
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« Reply #74 on: November 23, 2009, 03:08:57 pm »

Unlike other witnesses to the fire whose view of the port side of the ship had the light of the setting sun behind the ship, Professor Heald's view of the starboard side of the ship against a backdrop of the darkening eastern sky would have made the dim blue light of a static discharge (or burning hydrogen) atop the ship more easily visible.

Harold G. Dick was Goodyear Zeppelin's representative with Luftschiffbau Zeppelin during the mid-1930s. He flew on test flights of the Hindenburg and its sister ship, the Graf Zeppelin II. He also flew on numerous flights in the original Graf Zeppelin and 10 round trip crossings of the north and south Atlantic in the Hindenburg. In his book The Golden Age of the Great Passenger Airships Graf Zeppelin & Hindenburg, he observes:
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