THE HINDENBURG DISASTER
(May 6, 1937 – Lakehurst Naval Air Station, New Jersey)
The Official Story
(Hindenburg Zeppelin Operator)
Deutsche Zeppelin-Reederei (lit. ‘German Zeppelin Transport Company’), abbreviated DZR, is a German limited-liability company that operates commercial passenger zeppelin flights. The current incarnation of the DZR was founded in 2001 and is based in Friedrichshafen. It is a subsidiary of Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik and operates Zeppelin NT “Next Generation” airships. By 2009 the DZR had transported over 55,000 passengers. As of 2012 the DZR flies a schedule of 12 tour routes between March and November in Southern Germany. The company also operates flights to other selected cities as well as charter flights.
In the mid-1930s, the DZR was a commercial airline based in Frankfurt that operated zeppelins in regular transatlantic revenue service, including the famous LZ 129 Hindenburg. Following the Hindenburg disaster in 1937 the DZR stopped transatlantic service, although it launched a new airship in 1938 and had another on order. Plans for more operations ended at the outbreak of World War II and its zeppelins were scrapped in 1940. Today’s DZR sees itself as the successor of this original airline and is incorporated under the same name.
Hindenburg Disaster (1937)
On 6 May 1937 the LZ 129 Hindenburg caught fire and exploded while mooring in Lakehurst, New Jersey, killing 35 people as well as CEO Ernst Lehmann. The disaster dramatically changed the fortunes of the DZR. Hindenburg was covered by insurance of 6 million RM, which was paid in full, but the loss of future passenger revenue was not. Public confidence in Zeppelin travel had also been shattered and the LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin was immediately grounded on its return flight from Brazil on 8 May 1937.
The obvious solution was to switch the Zeppelins’ lifting gas from highly flammable hydrogen to inert helium. However, helium was only produced in the United States, was extremely expensive and had been embargoed since 1927. American airships equipped with helium were also forced to conserve it at all costs, which hampered their operational characteristics. Finally, a delay by the DZR to apply for an import license during a politically favorable moment in 1938 meant that it was deprived of the gas when relations between the US and Nazi Germany deteriorated soon after. In any event, helium’s high cost would probably have made future operations of the huge zeppelins unprofitable, particularly in competition with the new flying boats.