A historical mystery that has beguiled scientists for three-quarters of a century has finally been solved, according to a new documentary airing March 7.
In Channel 4's program titled "What Destroyed The Hindenburg," a team of experts build models of the infamous air ship and systematically rule out theories of what led to its destruction.
The culprit of the Hindenburg's destruction, they conclude, was static electricity.
Launched at Friedrichshafen, Germany, in 1936, the Hindenburg was an 804-foot airship filled with flammable hydrogen gas. It had a maximum speed of 84 mph, according to the History Channel. For a year, the air ship transported passengers across the Atlantic, ferrying more than 1,000 people between Germany and the United States.
However, tragedy struck on May 6, 1937 as the ship was landing at Lakehurst, N.J. The ship burst into flames in front of shocked onlookers, killing "35 people on board and one member of the ground crew," Space.com notes.
Now, Channel 4's team of experts say they believe static electricity eventually brought the silvery craft down.
"I think the most likely mechanism for providing the spark is electrostatic," aeronautical engineer Jem 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."
After the explosion, which was memorialized in terrifying broadcasts played around the world, popular but unproven theories claimed the Hindenburg bust into fire because of leaked hydrogen gas, according to The Independent. Meanwhile conspiracy theorists wondered if the airship had not in fact been violently sabotaged, perhaps by anti-Nazi sympathizers.
Discovery Channel's "Mythbusters" team took on the question during an episode in 2007, but their research did more to rule out theories than confirm anything.
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