The Hindenburg

The Hindenburg was the largest and most celebrated airship ever built, but was doomed to a tragic end. On 6 May, 1937 the hydrogen at the rear of the vessel ignited while the airship was being manoeuvred to land at Lakehurst. The Hindenburg was destroyed by the ensuing fire and 35, out of the 97 on board, plummeted to their deaths as the ship collided with moorings.

Airships once rivalled the luxury of the cruise liner. A pioneer in the development of dirigibles as mainstream transportation was Zeppelin, who developed a functional airship from the principles of the hot air balloon; using hydrogen and engines, these vessels would be capable of carrying many passengers in any specified direction.

The rigid dirigible Hindenburg was commissioned to be the greatest of the zeppelins, was built by manufacturers in Friedrichshafen, Germany and completed and tested in 1936. It was the world's first transatlantic commercial airliner and measured 245 metres in length (almost as long as the Titanic) with a diameter of 41 metres. The Hindenburg used 200,000 cubic metres of hydrogen in 16 cells of its aluminium alloy frame in order to float above the ground. Hydrogen was not, however, the first choice fuel of the German engineers who preferred helium on which the Americans had a restricting monopoly.

The Hindenburg was an airliner steeped in elegance and luxury. Passengers could read in its vast library, relax in its exquisite lounge or enjoy food prepared by chefs who had cooked aboard the great ocean liners in its dining hall. For $400 transatlantic travellers could fly in complete comfort and safety. Nobody believed that the terrible fate that befell the Hindenburg could be possible and numerous investigations were launched into the causes of the tragedy, most with sabotage in mind.

This programme looks at the tragic fate that befell this stately and streamlined airship, effectively ending the golden age of the zeppelin. Interviews with witnesses and survivors of the crash shed light on what happened that day and bring to life the horrors of one history's most famous and tragic air disasters.

Genre: History Documentary

Running Time: 60 minutes (approx)