Tuesday, May 6, 2014

MAY 6 = "The Hindenburg" Explodes

"It burst into flames! It burst into flames, and it's falling, it's crashing! Watch it! Watch it, folks! Get out of the way! Get out of the way! Get this, Charlie! Get this, Charlie! It's fire—and it's crashing! It's crashing terrible! Oh, my, get out of the way, please! It's burning and bursting into flames, and the—and it's falling on the mooring-mast and all the folks agree that this is terrible, this is the worst of the worst catastrophes in the world. Ohhhhh! It's–it's–it's the flames…… oh, four- or five-hundred feet into the sky and it ... it's a terrific crash, ladies and gentlemen. It's smoke, and it's flames now ... and the frame is crashing to the ground, not quite to the mooring-mast. Oh, the humanity and all the passengers screaming around here!!”
{Listen to the broadcast along with newsreel footage by clicking on the highlighted words, "the frenzied broadcast.." etc.  just below}

This was the frenzied broadcast of Herb Morrison (below),
an American radio reporter as he reported the explosion of "the Hindenburg", a catastrophic fire that destroyed the LZ 129 Hindenburg zeppelin 78 years ago on today’s date, May 6, in 1937 at Lakehurst, New Jersey, killing 36 people. Morrison and engineer Charlie Nielsen had been assigned by station WLS in Chicago to cover the arrival of the airship in New Jersey as an experiment in recording news for delayed broadcast. Network policy at the time forbade the use of recorded material except for sound effects on dramas, and Morrison and Nielsen had neither equipment, not facilities for live broadcast. So this broadcast did not go out onto the air live, right as it happened. Nevertheless, it was eventually played and the drama of it has caught the public in the moment of when fate took a hand in what was to have been a routine news broadcast better than anything else did until the assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald in 1963, or more recently the explosion of the space shuttle "Challenger", the events of 9/11or the Boston Bombings.

"The Hindenburg" - the Pride of Nazi Germany

The Hindenburg was designed to be the biggest and the best – the fastest and the most luxurious flying vessel of its time. It was more than 800 feet long, had a range of 8,000 miles, could carry 97 passengers and had a state-of-the-art Mercedes-Benz engine. It was filled with 7 million cubic feet of hydrogen, even though helium was known to be far safer, because it made the flying ship more maneuverable. The Hindenburg had made crossings of the Atlantic ocean a total of ten times the year before and was held up as a symbol of the advanced state of the Nazi government in Germany; the very symbol of Aryan national pride.

"The Hindenburg" Bursts Into Flames!

Flying at a speed of 85 miles per hour, the Hindenburg was scheduled to arrive in New Jersey at 5 a.m. on May 6, but poor weather conditions delayed the arrival until the late afternoon when rain further delayed the final docking procedure. When the she was finally cleared to dock, Captain Max Pruss brought the ship in too quickly, and was obliged to order a reverse engine thrust. At 7:20 p.m., a gas leak was noticed, and within a few minutes, the tail blew up, sending flames exploding several hundred feet into the air and as well as down to the ground below. A chain reaction resulted which caused the entire vessel to blow up instantly in a truly horrific explosion. Present were over 1,000 spectators awaiting the Hindenburg's arrival, and they were able to feel
the heat from the blast from more than a mile away. Some of the passengers on the blimp tried jumping for the landing cables at the docking station but most of them missed, and perished. Other passengers tried to jump when the burning airship was closer to the ground, and these attempts at escape were more successful. Many passengers who did try this suffered broken bones from the jump. Still more passengers suffered some severe burns. As difficult as it is to imagine it, based on the film images, fifty-six people did indeed manage to survive. As a result of the very public destruction of the Hindenburg, lighter-than-air passenger travel rapidly fell out of favor in the years that followed, and no rigid airships survived World War II.

Herb Morrison After the Crash of "the Hindenburg"

As for Herb Morrison, a sort of urban legend developed that Morrison was fired by WLS for his emotional reaction, but according to the station's weekly magazine and Morrison himself, this is not true. In fact, he was highly praised by station management, and the story of how he and Nielsen made the recording was described in detail. Morrison went on to serve in the United States Army Air Forces during World War II, and later became the first news director at WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh. In the 1975 motion picture The Hindenburg, Morrison was employed as a technical adviser. He retired to live outside Morgantown, West Virginia. He was active as a lecturer to colleges and news organizations. He died in 1989.

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