Goodyear Blimp Crash in Germany

by Dan Grossman on June 12, 2011

A Goodyear-branded A-60+ blimp burned and crashed in Germany on Sunday evening in the vicinity of the Reichelsheim airport near Frankfurt.  The ship’s pilot was killed; the three passengers, all journalists, survived the crash.

Goodyear blimp burning in midair

Photo DPA (from http://www.spiegel.de, see link)

Three reliable LTA sources have informed me that the pilot was Australian Mike Nerandzic [photo], who seems to have saved his passengers at the cost of his own life.

It appears the blimp made an emergency descent after the pilot and passengers smelled fuel during the approach to the landing field, and caught fire following a prop strike from one or both engines.  The pilot instructed his passengers to exit the airship to safety; the blimp then climbed rapidly, with the pilot still onboard, from the loss of the passengers’ weight.

Early press reports incorrectly identified the ship involved in the crash as a Zeppelin NT, but it was an A-60+ blimp operated in Europe by The Lightship Group (Lightship Europe Ltd.) under contract to Goodyear.  Goodyear operates its own blimps in the United States.

Goodyear recently announced that it will be replacing its famous blimps with zeppelins beginning in 2014.

The Lightship Group has issued a statement about the accident.

Goodyear Blimp Burning in Midair

Photo DPA (from http://www.spiegel.de, see link)

Media links:

Pilot killed after helping three passengers to make incredible escape (dramatic photos)

Pilot stirbt bei Luftschiff-Absturz (story and photos)

Pilot Dies as Airship Bursts Into Flames (Spiegel Online Inernational, in English)

Drama in Hessen: Zeppelin in Flammen!

Piloot redt passagiers maar komt om bij crash zeppelin

Un zeppelin s’écrase en Allemagne: un mort

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{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

Steve September 19, 2012 at 8:21 pm

Take a look at ‘The Jordan Series Drouge’ as a possible ‘storm tail’ to safely moor such an airship on a mooring mast in heavy weather. I’d bet that something of this sort would have a dramatic impact on its behavior while moored.

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T.Ando June 6, 2012 at 3:36 am

From Experience in the field I know for a fact that bigger ships easier to handle than small ships especially when it comes down to whether. I worked on an A-160 Blimp and Apparently they are a dream compared to the A60!

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Alex Fulton November 30, 2011 at 12:22 pm

I was sad to hear of this, I first saw it on youtube. He showed true bravery on that flight. He will be missed by alot of people.

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Alex Fulton December 7, 2011 at 11:21 am

Anyone know where to get trained for airships? I want to be a pilot when I’m old enough

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David August 23, 2011 at 11:38 am

I thought older Goodyear blimps had ripcords that could be used to rapidly deflate the envelopes in emergencies. Did this ship not? Would the correct proceedure have been to evacuate the passsenger and then rip ship immediately to avoid uncontolled ascent while in flames?

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Dan (Airships.net) August 23, 2011 at 5:45 pm

The ripcord is not accessible to the pilot; it must be pulled by the ground crew.

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David August 23, 2011 at 6:20 pm

Thanks for the info.
Tragic.

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Joseph Dick August 19, 2014 at 4:26 pm

The rip cord is required to be accessible to the pilot. FAA-P-8110-2 “Airship Design Criteria” USDOT/FAA, Section 4.43 “Envelope Design” paragraph (f) states: “Provisions must be provided to permit rapid envelope deflation should the airship break away from the mast during mooring. If the airship is to be left unattended, automatic deflation must be provided. The system must be protected against inadvertent use, andmust be properly identified and available to crewmembers.” Therefore, per FAA regulations, the rip cord must be accessible to the pilot.

There has been trouble in practice with the rip cord of the A-60. According to the NTSB gives the written statement of the pilot regarding the July 1, 1998 crash of N760AB, which states: “The ships maneuvering and pressure relief valves were opened to induce further descent. The ship bounced from treetop to treetop for about 10 minutes before settling in a tree with the gondola about 40 feet in the air. The helium rip cord was pulled but apparently unsuccessfully. The air-to-helium rip was successfully pulled.”

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anon August 21, 2011 at 8:00 am

I worked with Mike many years ago as a ground crewman..he was a really,really nice fella..His bravery makes me feel proud to have ever known him.
I’m truly saddened to hear of his death.

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Stuart M July 11, 2011 at 6:45 am

The A-60 and A-60+ both have the same undercarridge with the latter having an increased 100 pound takeoff weight. So even if the pilot was heavy it would be extreamly unlikely that he would be above the A60+ weight. The gear is directly under the fuel tank and always has been a dangerous design. The company that operates them is cheap and has been able to get away with unsafe practices for years. Given the pilots problem with the gear collapsing and the location of the fuel tank he was very brave help the passengers escape. There is no way to get rid if enough helium in the lightship to allow the aircraft to remain on the ground once 3 passengers have alighted. This is not the first time that a lightship has left the pilot stuck in the airship with no hope of escape after 3 passengers have evacuated. The last pilot ended up being rescued in the North Sea, unfortunately this time it had tradgic consequences.

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David Chipping July 1, 2011 at 8:21 am

The fact of the matter is that the Lightship is the most rugged and dependable Airship in service . It has provern itself in just about every theater of operation in the world and providing it is flown within limitations it is certainly one of the safest due to the simplicity of design.
This was a catastrophically hard landing with horrific consequences for Mike Nerandzic a close personal friend, one of the most experienced and knowledgeable LTA pilots in the business. He leaves behind a wife and friends who are devastated by his loss.
Much like Concorde , some scenarios can never be contemplated until after the fact.

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speculator... June 16, 2011 at 10:51 am

Link to detailed photos after the hard landing, looks like the landing broke off, punctured the fuel tank, and then got stuck in the lower rear of the airship frame. Also looks like one of the props is gone.

Just a speculation based on the close up pictures of the gondola in this link.

http://www.bild.de/news/fotos-neu-ab-relaunch/zeppelin/fg-zeppelin-drama-18344350,cid=18341506.bild.html

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Tim Wood June 14, 2011 at 3:31 am

I met Mike a few times at cardington hangars while the two a60,s were being assembled, I liked him straight away he was very approacable, his sense of humour spot on, my sympathies to his family and his crew, and all who met him.
he will not be forgotten.

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Littleyankee June 13, 2011 at 3:42 pm

Like the man says Have a Heart the pieces of materials that made up that thing in the sky can be replaced :::::: Need i say more

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WestyWind1950 June 13, 2011 at 12:16 pm

just for information…. Reichelsheim, EDFB, is located 20 NM NORTH of Frankfurt Airport, not south, and 15 NM North- East of Oberursel, too far for the last Hindenburg surviver to have seen it (thank God!).

I watched it land at Reichelsheim on Saturday…. such a sad event.

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Super Train Station H June 13, 2011 at 10:26 am

I just read the updates, and having just been on this fellow’s site a few weeks ago it’s really shocking. I really hope whatever caused this is corrected so at least some good comes of it and future aircraft are safer.

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John McGregor June 13, 2011 at 9:42 am

For a long time it has been said in the blimp world that these A60 Lightships are pissy flimsy little blimps …proven in this tragic accident. RIP Mike..

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Paul A Adams June 13, 2011 at 8:41 pm

John,

Whoever told you that about the A60+ has it totally wrong. The Lightship fleet has over 300,000 flight hours under its belt. I have 5000+ of those.

The A60+ is a rugged, reliable machine and will go down as one of the classic LTA designs.

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J. James June 13, 2011 at 9:02 pm

But when, exactly, did this design originate? Futhermore, how modern is it’s design compared to, say, a Zeppelin NT, Skyship 500 or 600, etc.? And this is one of the cheapest helium blimps you can buy, correct? Also, this ship was brand new. How rugged could it be? It crashed.

You can say that anything is safe just because something hasn’t gone wrong yet. But the true test of safety is how it performs in an actual situation.

Random explosions do not a safe aircraft make, and don’t try to defer responsibility onto the engine manufacturer either. Aircraft manufacturers are responsible for putting only the best models and individual products into their aircraft.

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A.B. June 13, 2011 at 9:14 pm

Whoever you are John you are either a helium head Zep NT cheerleader or a troll trying to make light of a tragic accident involving our colleague Mike. Your obvious lack of any credible knowledge about airships or their crews belies an overall ignorance about aviation in general. Had you bothered to reference any other articles (other than this poorly informed one) or in fact knew anyone of merit who actually know people who were on site at the time, including Mike, you would know that fire was the result of an extremely hard landing. One which crushed not only the landing gear but also sent the props into the ground and caused catastrophic damage to the engines.
ANY aircraft that suffers a very hard or crash landing runs an extreme risk of fire. Hard landings are a fact of life throughout the aviation community and aviation itself, LTA or otherwise, is inherently risky. Mike knew those risks and knew his responsibility as PIC. He did not shirk them when an emergency arose. He kept his damaged craft on the ground long enough to for his passengers to reach safety and in doing so went to his death.
As for you ‘John’ you are ignorant and trying to besmirch a tragedy by spouting nonsense to try and make yourself sound knowledgeable, which you are not.

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A.B. June 13, 2011 at 9:34 pm

Apologies. This article did reference the hard landing and prop strike.

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J. James June 13, 2011 at 9:52 pm

Good point, but wasn’t that hard landing performed because the cabin was filling with fuel fumes? That would imply that the airship was in danger before the props struck the ground.

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Documentally June 13, 2011 at 4:39 am

I was in the same ship with Mike as the pilot only weeks ago and remember the ground crew fueling from jerry cans as we were sat acting as ballast. I thought this unusual but don’t see any other way of refueling happening with such fast turnarounds. I am so sad for Mike’s family. He was a nice guy and a great pilot. I blogged about this last night here.. http://ourmaninside.com/2011/06/13/goodyear-blimp-crashes-in-germany/

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Imelda38 June 13, 2011 at 3:48 am

Guys, Although I understand (sort of) the concerns about the make and model…..the guy who died was a human being, with a wife and family (a point Super Train Station kindly makes). A hugely experienced pilot too. He saved his passengers, probably knowing that he would die. What an incredible man. I think this is more noteworthy than what model the d*mn ship was. Have a heart?

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J. James June 13, 2011 at 8:25 pm

Of course. Everyone recognizes this man is a hero, one of the rare people that sacrifice themselves to save the lives of others. As captain, he went down with his ship and that is very honorable. But what we are speculating on is the reason why this tragedy happened. If the a-60+ is an unsafe ship, then people have the right to be curious about whether that was the cause and that may lead to better safety for others so that he wouldn’t have died in vain.

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Dr. John Provan June 13, 2011 at 3:43 am

Just yesterday afternoon, I saw this Goodyear Blimp fly over my home in nearby Kelkheim; impressed, since it has been a long time that an airship had flown over the Frankfurt area.
This accident is a real tragedy. Not only has the Goodyear Company a long and proud history of operating blimps safely for more than 80 years, it has remained the motor for Lighter-than-Air, keeping the dream alive. Goodyear just signed a contract for a new fleet of airships, so it’s old fleet would have be soon replaced. I have flown in several Goodyear blimps over the years, and I can only underscore my support for Goodyear, by saying, I’d gladly be the next passenger on the next Blimp.

What is all the more Ironic, the last living survivor of the “Hindenburg” crash, the former Cabin Boy, probably not only saw this Goodyear blimp fly over his home in nearby Oberusel, but may have witnessed the crash from his living room window.
Thank God the pilot was apparently able to save the lives of his passengers. Capt. Lehman was not so lucky, back in 1937. May we remember all those who have given their lives to the Lighter-than-Air cause, on this “Pfingsten” (Pentecost) holiday.
Dr. John Provan, Historian

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Paul A Adams June 13, 2011 at 3:32 am

The pilot Mike Nerandzic was a good friend and taught me to fly airships. He was simply one of the best airship pilots in the world. Anyone in the industry will tell you that.

From what I am told by colleges in the industry and closely connected to that operation, Mike showed great bravery when the incident occurred and saved the lives of the three passengers.

Paul A Adams

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Emile June 13, 2011 at 3:02 am

OMG we flew a month ago in this Zeppelin in the Netherlands, I can’t believe it.

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J. James June 12, 2011 at 10:46 pm

I’m shocked! I assumed from a vague article that this was one of Gefa-Flug’s hot air dirigibles catching fire like a hot air balloon. Helium blimps are supposed to be safe… But frankly, I’m surprised that the a-60s are still flying. Even the a-60+ is kind of outdated. But doesn’t this give you Deja Vu, Dan? I’m not talking about the Hindenburg. Wasn’t there a helium blimp in the seventies or something that had a fuel fire?
I wonder what happens next after this tragedy.

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J. James June 13, 2011 at 8:39 pm

Whoops, the site, the article and the photo album labeled it an a-60, but then corrected themselves. It’s an a-60+, but my point still stands. It’s an outdated blimp.

On a related note, there are some electric blimps coming out, like the diesel hybrid LEMV and lockheed’s HAA. I wonder if that will cross over into the civilian ships for safety, maybe even with solar assistance.

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Super Train Station H June 12, 2011 at 7:10 pm

What could have possibly caused this? I’m really crushed. I don’t want to be insensitive to those touched by this crash personally, or dwell on past LTA disasters, but I hope this doesn’t lead to a knee jerk reaction against further airship development.

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Robert Pohl June 12, 2011 at 7:05 pm

It’s not a Zeppelin-NT. Just your usual Goodyear Blimp (the word Zeppelin is used incorrectly – at least in the Bild article. But that’s to be expected from them)

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Kenneth Petschow June 13, 2011 at 3:33 am

It was an A-60 not a Goodyear GZ-22 which should both be referred to as blimps not ridgid airships or Zeppelin’s. The Zeppelin NT is a superior design with a rigid structure inside.

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John McGregor June 13, 2011 at 9:46 am

True what you say. The A60 light blimp are pieces of shit. Dont know why they were still operating.
Cheers
JOhn

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J. James June 13, 2011 at 8:48 pm

Couldn’t agree more. This ship, while being brand new, was an relic design probably chosen just because it’s the cheapest. I even heard sonewhere that the builders put an air-cooled VW BEETLE engine into this particular blimp, even though the “official” engine is an 80-horsepower Limbach engine! I kinda doubt that, but I heard that long before this happened, when the ship was first launched. And to add to the fishiness, the engines seem to have been the cause of the fire and explosion!

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A.B. June 13, 2011 at 9:33 pm

Aren’t you two a pair ignorant sods. The engines on that ship are indeed Limbachs. If you actually had any knowledge that pertained to anything other than playing with each other in the comments section you would know that Limbach is the aircraft engine branch of Volkswagen. Therefore you would technically be right in your assertion that the engines were Volkswagen, had you actually known what you were talking about. You know what else is fishy? That you you’ve made all the same assertions about the cause of the fire that have already been addressed in tweedle-dums comment. I wonder if the two of you are both in the same basement together, sharing a Hot Pocket.

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J. James June 13, 2011 at 9:45 pm

Hey, why don’t you stop making ad hominem attacks? That means you’ve already lost a debate. Besides, I already said I doubted that, because I heard that MONTHS AGO, and how am I supposed to know Volkswagen’s corporate structure? I was just tentatively putting that out there as something I had heard long ago. In fact, it was more of a question than a statement.

Why are you resorting to name-calling to defend your precious blimp? No one knows yet whether it was the result of a flaw, but you seem to have decided out of hand that the ship was just fine and that this was some sort of freak accident. But almost all aircraft accidents are the result of an underlying flaw in the design, or improper maintennance. Improper maintenance seems unlikely because this was a brand new ship, and the hero captain was almost certainly not the cause, so what are we left with to speculate about?

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A.B. June 13, 2011 at 10:08 pm

My apologies for being crass. However wanton speculation by people without an adequate knowledge base is especially irritating when a colleague of mine has just been killed. My point should have been the same as I made on an earlier comment. Aircraft that land extremely hard suffer damage. In this case the damage to the aircraft was catastrophic. The underlying flaw you seek is one that we all share. Falling down hard breaks things. You are correct that there are many details not yet known. Maintenance or pilot error may still be factors. That airship was not in fact brand new. It is also true that is the cheapest. Which is why that particular model has been more prevalent than any other and quite frankly has been very lucky until now considering the volume of flight time the type has behind it. If we are to speculate lets please speculate on the facts we have. As for the name calling, please feel free to call me any you like. I do apologize for losing my temper.

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J. James June 13, 2011 at 10:15 pm

Nah, how about instead of calling you a name I apologize instead. I was wrong to imply that because the a-60+ has lower build quality because it is the cheapest around. That’s a fallacy, and I’m sorry. If you look closely, I was careful to say IF the a-60+ is found to be flawed/unsafe, because honestly no one knows yet. And I am truly sorry about your friend.

But I would like to say that these people are right to question that particular aircraft. It would be much worse if instead people damned it, other lightships, or worst of all blimps and airships in general.

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J. James June 13, 2011 at 10:24 pm

Nah, how about instead of calling you names I apologize. I was wrong to imply that the a-60+ has a lower build quality because it’s cheapest. I’d also like to offer my condolences to you for losing your friend.

But these people are right to question this particular aircraft. Who knows, it could actually be flawed in some way. Also, there could be new safety measures implemented to the design because of this incident, which is never a bad thing.

They are also being appropriate, in my opinion, by questioning this particular aircraft and this particular model only, instead of damning other lightships or blimps as a whole as being “unsafe aircraft”, something I wouldn’t put past the layperson.

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lyndy July 8, 2011 at 7:16 am

I would like to assure you that there was indeed ..NO PILOT ERROR..My husband was the most experienced airship pilot in the world..he lost his life by saving his passengers,had it been any other pilot it may have been a different outcome altogether,and had he had no passangers he might still be alive today..

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David Chipping July 2, 2011 at 10:08 am

Frankly gentlemen I have flown in some interesting places in this airship , Hong Kong harbour and out to sea, from Lisbon to Oporto along the coast and frankly it always had the feel of being a safe well engineered aircraft.
It is basic and simple, neither is bad thing as a design principle, less to go wrong and easy to fix.
This looks like a Concord scenario, a sequence of events that led to a unique accident, highlighting a potential design flaw.The accident report will reveal more.
The only problem with this whole affair is that we lost Mike Nerandzic in the process and the loss this represents to his family and friends.

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A.B. June 13, 2011 at 9:47 pm

Ah yes. The venerable NT. Superior in that you’ve stuck engines straight through your envelope at three points. I wonder where the helium leaks are at? Superior in that it rides on its tail when moored and has to be flown by the crew on the mast in over 12 knots. Ask the Skyship pilot from last year how ‘safe’ it is to be inside a moored ship when its ripped off its mast in heavy weather.
The NT is a Faberge hangar queen. It’s ‘superior’ design renders it prohibitively expensive to operate unless you’re a dot com millionaire with money to lose.

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J. James June 13, 2011 at 9:58 pm

You know, I have wondered why they did that with the NT’s engines. But it’s unfair to say that the NT is susceptible to mooring troubles, because ALL LTA aircraft have issues with mooring masts occasionally. It’s an unavoidable characteristic of all blimps.

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A.B. June 13, 2011 at 10:21 pm

Absolutely true about mooring in general. However the NT design requires personnel to be-in-it to manage the ship in inclement weather. It cannot be managed externally. That alone is a red flag safety issue from an operating point of view. Don’t get me wrong. It’s beautiful ship and is incredibly impressive. It’s flight characteristics are astounding compared to other types. But it’s complexity also makes it fragile and a tough ship to operate without a large hangar nearby.

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J. James June 13, 2011 at 10:27 pm

I agree. Sometimes simple is better. In fact, I find it kind of alarming that it has no external means of control. Is that due to it’s size, or what?

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