Hydrogen Airship Disasters

Dozens of hydrogen airships exploded or burned in the years before before the Hindenburg disaster finally convinced the world that hydrogen is not an acceptable lifting-gas for airships carrying people.

The following is a partial list of hydrogen-inflated airships that were destroyed by fire from accidental causes (the list does not include ships shot down in combat operations):

  • LZ-4 (August 5, 1908)
  • LZ-6 (September 14, 1910)
  • LZ-12/Z-III (June 17, 1912)
  • LZ-10 Schwaben (June 28, 1912)
  • Akron (July 2, 1912)
  • LZ-18/L-2 (October 17, 1913)
  • LZ-30/Z-XI (May 20, 1915)
  • LZ-40/L-10 (September 3, 1915)
  • SL-6 (November 10, 1915)
  • LZ-52/L-18 (November 17, 1915)
  • LZ-31/L-6 and LZ-36/L-9 (September 16, 1916)
  • LZ-53/L-17 and LZ-69/L-24 (December 28, 1916)
  • SL-9 (March 30, 1917)
  • LZ-102/L-57 (October 7, 1917)
  • LZ-87/LZ-117, LZ-94/L-46, LZ-97/L-51, and LZ-105/L-58 (January 5, 1918)
  • LZ-104/L-59 (April 7, 1918)
  • Wingfoot Air Express (July 21, 1919)
  • R-38/ZR-II (August 23, 1921)
  • Roma (February 21, 1922)
  • Dixmude (December 21, 1923)
  • R101 (October 5, 1930)
  • LZ-129 Hindenburg (May 6, 1937)

Description of the Accidents

LZ-4 (August 5, 1908)

After an emergency landing near Echterdingen, Germany, LZ-4 was was torn from its temporary mooring by a gust of wind and ignited after hitting a stand of trees.

Burned wreckage of LZ-4 near Echterdingen

LZ-6 (September 14, 1910)

LZ-6, owned by the world’s first passenger airline, DELAG, was destroyed at Baden-Oos by a hydrogen fire which began when a mechanic used petrol to clean the ship’s gondola.

LZ-12/Z-III (June 17, 1912)

LZ-12 ignited and burned in its hangar at Friedrichshafen while being deflated.

LZ-10 Schwaben (June 28, 1912)

The passenger airship Schwaben was destroyed by fire at the airship field at Dusseldorf when its hydrogen was ignited by static electricity from the ship’s rubberized fabric gas cells.

Wreck of LZ-10 Schwaben at Dusseldorf

Akron (July 2, 1912)

Melvin Vaniman’s airship Akron exploded 15 minutes after departing Atlantic City, New Jersey, during an attempt to cross the Atlantic.

LZ-18/L-2 (October 17, 1913)

An in-flight engine fire ignited the ship’s hydrogen, killing all aboard.

LZ-30/Z-XI (May 20, 1915)

The ship broke away from its ground crew after being damaged during removal from its hangar; it crashed nearby and was destroyed when its hydrogen ignited.

LZ-40/L-10 (September 3, 1915)

L-10 was destroyed by a hydrogen fire during a thunderstorm near Cuxhaven as it was returning to its base at Nordholz.  It is likely the ship rose in an updraft and released hydrogen which was ignited by the atmospheric conditions.  All 19 members of the crew were killed.

SL-6 (November 10, 1915)

SL-6 exploded and burned on takeoff, killing all aboard.

LZ-52/L-18 (November 17, 1915)

The ship caught fire and was destroyed while being refilled with hydrogen at the zeppelin base at Tønder.

LZ-31/L-6 and LZ-36/L-9 (September 16, 1916)

Both ships were destroyed by fire in their hangar at Fuhlsbuttel when hydrogen was ignited during refilling operations.

LZ-53/L-17 and LZ-69/L-24 (December 28, 1916)

While L-24 was being returned to the shed it shared with L-17 at Tønder, a gust of wind lifted the ship into the roof of the shed; a light bulb ignited a hydrogen fire which destroyed both ships.

SL-9 (March 30, 1917)

SL-9 burned after being struck by lightning in flight over the Baltic, killing all 23 persons aboard.

LZ-102/L-57 (October 7, 1917)

L-57 burned in its shed at the airship base of Niedergörsdorf”“Juterbog after being damaged by high winds during docking operations.

LZ-87/LZ-117, LZ-94/L-46, LZ-97/L-51, and LZ-105/L-58 (January 5, 1918)

An explosion at the zeppelin base at Ahlhorn ignited the hydrogen of all four ships.

LZ-104/L-59 (April 7, 1918)

L-59 exploded in flight and crashed at sea near Malta, killing all 21 members of the crew.  L-59 was the famous “Africa Ship” which proved the feasibility of intercontinental zeppelin travel by carrying 15 tons of cargo and 22 persons on a record-breaking 4,225 mile flight during a military relief mission to German East Africa in November, 1917.

Wingfoot Air Express (July 21, 1919)

Goodyear’s Wingfoot Air Express ignited in mid-air and crashed through the skylight of the Illinois Trust & Savings Building in Chicago, Illinois, killing three persons on the ship and ten bank employees and injuring another 27 people.  All subsequent Goodyear airships were inflated with helium.

R-38/ZR-II (August 23, 1921)

The British-built R-38 (intended to serve as the United State Navy airship ZR-II) suffered in-flight structural failure over the city of Hull, England and crashed into the River Humber where it ignited, killing 44 of the 49 men aboard.

Roma (February 21, 1922)

The United States Army airship Roma (built by Umberto Nobile) ignited when it hit high-tension electrical wires near Langley Field at Hampton Roads, Virginia, killing 34 of the ship’s 45 crew members.  After the Roma disaster the United States government decided never again to inflate an airship with hydrogen.

Dixmude (December 21, 1923)

The French-operated Dixmude was destroyed over the Mediterranean Sea near the coast of Sicily by a hydrogen explosion visible from miles away.  Dixmude’s gas cells had apparently been contaminated with air, creating an explosive mixture, and the ship may have been lifted by updrafts in a thunderstorm, causing hydrogen to be vented and then ignited by the electrically charged atmosphere.

R101 (October 5, 1930)

The poorly-designed British R101 lost altitude and sank into a hillside near Beauvais, France.  The impact was slight and caused few if any injuries, but the ship’s hydrogen ignited and the ensuing inferno killed 48 of the 55 passengers and crew.

Wreckage of R101

LZ-129 Hindenburg (May 6, 1937)

Hindenburg was destroyed by a hydrogen fire at the Lakehurst Naval Air Station.

Hindenburg Burning at Lakehurst, New Jersey

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Ron Manning
Ron Manning

My Grandmother and her sisters/friends encountered the Roma as it flew over Hampton Roads area of Virginia. Less then 1 hour later it crashed near Langley Field in Virginia. My Grandmother and her sisters/friends were very surprised to hear that the victims that died in the disaster were the same… Read more »

Benjamin
Benjamin

I will never fly on a helium inflated airship since the worst airship disaster ever was because the helium in the USS Akron did not support the ship’s Weight in a Atlantic storm and the airship crashed into the Atlantic so i will only fly on a Hydrogen filled airship

allen meece
allen meece

It’s not ALL about H2 or He. Let’s not forget CH4, methane. Half as buoyant as He and a third more buoyant than hot air, it is the champion of the middle ground of airship lift gas. It’s flammable but much less so the H2. Its flammability range is one… Read more »

Pete Braun
Pete Braun

Has anyone tried using CH4?

Wesley Johnson
Wesley Johnson

I am also doing a report on the Roma and the US military zeppelin program for my 8th grade independent study because of my great great grandfather.

judie louden
judie louden

I am trying to locate info on the flight crew of the Roma. I very close friend of ours, Alberto Flores was one of the few who survived the crash. he died in 1988 at the age of 91.

Joshua Sheppard
Joshua Sheppard

Judie, My wife is currently writing a book on ROMA, she would be more than happy to share any information that she has (which is quite extensive). She is having some difficulty with information regarding Alberto Flores after the crash so if you have any personal stories etc… I know… Read more »

Wesley Johnson
Wesley Johnson

My great, great grandfather William O’loughlin was a civilian engineer working on the Roma’s six liberty engines when she went down. My family and I still regard him as a hero.

Fred J
Fred J

And the rest of the world regards him as an idiot.

Antony
Antony

This comment is insensitive and uncalled for.

Mark
Mark

I agree. The comment was totally uncalled for.

sandra
sandra

This is someones gggrandfather. Who are you to judge him? This man was part of history. What have you done in your lifetime that will be written about 100 years later? NOTHING I’M SURE…..be a man and remove this. Or continue being a pos and leave it up….maybe that can… Read more »

Ryan
Ryan

It wasn’t the engines that caused it to catch fire dumbass

Nancy E. Sheppard

Hello Wesley, I hope this reply reaches you, over two years after you posted your comment! My name is Nancy E. Sheppard and I am a historian who has devoted the last three years of my professional work to the study and research of ROMA and her crew. Recently, I… Read more »

tim
tim

Mr.Carvallo you’re a jackass

John
John

Akron was not inflated with hydrogen

victor
victor

i think it was filled with hydrogen

Antony
Antony

The Akron was inflated with helium

doug
doug

The Akron referred to here is the airship Melvin Vaniman flew in 1912.

Pete Needham
Pete Needham

Different Akron…the first one blew up in 1912. The second one, the USS Akron, helium filled, has the dubious distinction of having the worst loss of life of any airship when it was lost in a storm off New Jersey in 1933.

Jeff Green
Jeff Green

Hydrogen is in a flammabilty class by itself. Jet fuel, which is less easily ignited than gasoline, is practically inert when compared to hydrogen.

And, besides, the hindenberg blew up after hitting an iceberg. It was the Titanic that burned at Lakehurst. Do try to get the facts right.

jimmy kraktov
jimmy kraktov

You are just trying to be funny, right? We all know that the Titanic was an ocean going passenger ship. No one has ever thought otherwise. If you are in fact serious, you desperately need help.

James Parker
James Parker

James, I am also a LTA enthusiast and I read this line of comments. I don’t know if this sight is something that you pay attention to anymore. I believe that there is now a solution to the combustible issue with hydrogen. Look into something called a hydrino. It is… Read more »

Andrew B. Middleton
Andrew B. Middleton

James, At last, someone has done some serious study of hydrogen which increases its lifting capacity, and greatly reduces its flamability. Strange that it has had such a bad press since the Hindenberg disaster, but people all over the world take flights on modern fuel filled jet airliners that crash… Read more »

James Parker
James Parker

Thanks for the reply Andrew, I took a few Aerospace Engineering classes as electives while in college and was curious about the lack of information on LTA vehicles, so I researched the details myself. In the future I plan to do something about this and try to play Lazarus with… Read more »

David Gutierrez
David Gutierrez

Hey James, I was wondering if you had made any progress playing Lazarus with LTA and what you are doing two years after this comment. I am a current mechanical engineering student and am also interested in trying to reinvent the wheel so to speak with airships, heavier or lighter.… Read more »

Tony
Tony

All aircraft are dangerous to an extent and require a safety case that demonstrates that all hazards are identified. The safety case must demonstrate that risks are tolerable (against established criteria) and that engineering has been applied to reduce risk as low as reasonably practicable. That doesn’t mean that there… Read more »