Hindenburg Mystery Solved: Static Electricity Triggered Explosion

Monday, 04 Mar 2013 02:36 PM

By Alexandra Ward

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The real trigger of the Hindenburg mystery explosion has been revealed, putting an end to 76 years of questions, thanks to a team of aeronautical engineers who used full-scale replicas to recreate and test a number of theories.

Led by British engineer Jem Stansfield and based at the South West Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, a team of investigators determined it was static electricity that led to the explosion of the German passenger airship as it was trying to dock in Lakehurst, N.J., in 1937. Flames engulfed the Hindenburg and the ship, estimated to be more than three times longer than a Boeing 747, sank to the ground in less than a minute as horrified spectators watched. The blast killed 35 of the nearly 100 passengers on board.

After recreating different scenarios with mini Hindenburg replicas and watching tons of archived footage, Stansfield's team concluded that the Hindenburg had become charged with static after traveling through an electrical storm. They claim either a broken wire or sticking gas valve leaked hydrogen, which was then ignited from the charge.

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"I think the most likely mechanism for providing the spark is electrostatic," Stansfield told the Independent. "That starts at the top, then the flames from our experiments would've probably tracked down to the center. With an explosive mixture of gas, that gave the 'whoomph' when it got to the bottom."

Investigations at the time of the explosion concluded that a spark ignited leaking hydrogen gas, but it was never determined what caused the spark. Conspiracy theorists have long debated the cause of the disaster with some saying a bomb planted by terrorists brought the airship down, and others insisting it was shot down from the ground.

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Stansfield's findings will be included in a documentary scheduled to air on Britain's Channel 4 Thursday. In the film, his team discusses what led them to their static electricity deduction.

Related stories:

Survivors Recall Hindenburg 70 Years Later

Oh, the Humanity! The Stock Market's Hindenburg Omen

Europe Wants Documentary Evidence

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