Hindenburg Revisited

DATELINE: Disaster Cause

That marvelous PBS series, Secrets of the Dead, has a streaming episode called What Happened to the Hindenburg!

It takes a refreshing new look at the blame game that for sixty years or more has dismissed hydrogen as the culprit. Not only was the gas made to be considered unsafe, it ended the short reign of the airship, Zeppelin balloons, as a form of luxury transportation.

Most of us know the pompous and unprofessional radio broadcast that lamented the “humanity” of a disaster, but this documentary is far more horrific in giving us the details, and far more credible than the 1975 movie with George C. Scott and the Nazi conspiracy notion.

It certainly didn’t help the German mode of transportation in the years before the World War that it was a favorite project of Adolph Hitler. In fact, the Hindenburg was almost christened the Hitler, after the mad dictator. It was a ship that was an air version of Titanic, but with 35 deaths and fewer than 100 passengers, it measured up in microcosm.

Only years later when NASA used hydrogen in its space shuttle launches did a scientist named Dr. Addison Bain decide to take his free time to the archives. There, he found the dismissal of sabotage and the scapegoat of hydrogen somewhat unlike his own professional study of the gas.

When he began to investigate the conspiracy theories dismissed and the faulty investigation, partly the lack of sophistication in the era, that he saw new possibilities.

His clever detective work discovered the airship was painted with a highly flammable concoction that was an ingredient of solid rocket fuel! Powdered aluminum: Bingo!

Once again, the PBS series gives us something special in merging good science techniques with intelligent documentary filmmaking.