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Friday, May 13, 2011

Clif Brown Recalls the Hindenburg Over New Gretna

I spoke about my trip with Bob Buchanan to the Lakehurst Naval Air Station for the 74th Anniversary Memorial Ceremony of the Hindenburg disaster in last Wednesday's Blog entry. That awakened a memory in Clif Brown's mind about his spotting the Hindenberg as it passed over New Gretna on that fateful day in 1937. Unfortunately, Clif didn't have a camera handy to take a photo, but his written memories are worth sharing with you.

Pete S

The Hindenburg and etc.

On the evening of May 7, 1937 when riding my bicycle on West Greenbush Road, I sited on the horizon an airship flying just above the tree line and identified it to be the Hindenburg from the swastikas on its tail fins heading north towards Lakehurst about 6:30 PM. It was a majestic site reflecting the setting sun rays. Your friend Burrell, apparently saw it heading South, earlier in the day. I learned later that it was flying around South Jersey to avoid heavy electrical storms in the Lakehurst area. Listening to the radio later in the evening it was a shock to learn of the disaster. The broadcaster who was on site became so emotional describing, the fire, people jumping from the airship and all the confusion his voice was breaking down. Frequently, they replay that broadcast at programs recalling the catastrophe.

Anti German feelings were very high at that time and sabotage was suspected but later investigation placed the blame on static electricity causing a spark when the mooring lines were dropped to the ground crew, resulted in igniting the hydrogen gas. The Germans realized the danger of using hydrogen gas and wanted to use helium but were unable to buy from the United States. The only helium wells at that time were located in Texas. All US airships used helium gas. To avoid possible confusion hydrogen/helium gas was not used as fuel for the engines but being lighter than air lifted the weight of the airship.

The USS Los Angles and the Graf Zeppelin mentioned in the program are the same airship. After World War 1, the US received the Graf Zeppelin as reparation from Germany and renamed it the USS Los Angles. It was the only airship not to crash so when the US Navy ended the airship program it was dismantled and sold as scrap.

I worked at NAS Lakehurst for 10 years and had conversation with older employees who were on site during the Hindenburg disater, so I am not remembering all this from 1937, just in case some one is curious.

Clif Brown

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