What Caused The Hindenburg To Explode? Scientists Believe They Solved The Mystery

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By Charles Poladian | March 5, 2013 7:17 AM EST

The Hindenburg’s fiery crash in 1937 was a historic event but there was some mystery as to what caused the explosion. There has also been plenty of speculationas to how the dirigible caught fire so quickly, some of those theories were featured on a “Mythbusters” episode, but scientists have solved the mystery of what caused the Hindenburg explosion.

According to researchers at South West Research Institute, located in San Antonio, TX, static electricity led to the fatal spark reports The Independent. As the airship was about to land in Lakehurst, NJ, the Hindenburg exploded into flames leading to 35 deaths. Jem Stansfield, a British aeronautical engineer, led the research and the team exploded several scale model replicas of the Hindenburg to test out several popular theories.

Much like in “Mythbusters,” Stansfield and his team tested out theories, such as a bomb being aboard the ship or the ship’s skin as the cause of the explosion, and came to the conclusion that static electricity was to blame. The research also revealed several factors which led to the Hindenburg explosion.

The Hindenburg was leaking hydrogen and passed through an electrical storm, which led to the airship being charged with static electricity, notes The Independent. Hydrogen gas leaked into the Hindenburg’s ventilation shafts, it remains unclear how, but as the crew was tethering the ship they essentially “grounded” the airship, causing the stored static electricity to discharge and igniting the hydrogen which led to the explosion. Speaking to The Independent Dan Grossman, an airship historian, said, “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.”

The research is part of a documentary that will air on the UK’s Channel 4 on Thursday. A video of the 1937 Hindenburg explosion can be viewed below.           

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