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Forecast: Disaster - Netflix

Type: Documentary

Languages: English

Status: Ended

Runtime: 60 minutes

Premier: 2012-10-04

Forecast: Disaster - Hindenburg disaster - Netflix

The Hindenburg disaster occurred on May 6, 1937, in Manchester Township, New Jersey, United States. The German passenger airship LZ 129 Hindenburg caught fire and was destroyed during its attempt to dock with its mooring mast at Naval Air Station Lakehurst. Of the 97 people on board (36 passengers and 61 crewmen), there were 35 fatalities (13 passengers and 22 crewmen). One worker on the ground was also killed, raising the death toll to 36. The disaster was the subject of spectacular newsreel coverage, photographs, and Herbert Morrison's recorded radio eyewitness reports from the landing field, which were broadcast the next day. A variety of hypotheses have been put forward for both the cause of ignition and the initial fuel for the ensuing fire. The event shattered public confidence in the giant, passenger-carrying rigid airship and marked the abrupt end of the airship era.

Forecast: Disaster - News coverage - Netflix

The iconic newsreel footage was shot by four newsreel camera teams: Pathé News, Movietone News, Hearst News of the Day, and Paramount News. Al Gold of Fox Movietone News later received a Presidential Citation for his work. One of the most widely circulated photographs of the disaster (see photo at top of article), showing the airship crashing with the mooring mast in the foreground, was photographed by Sam Shere of International News Photos. When the fire started he did not have the time to put the camera to his eye and shot the photo “from the hip”. Murray Becker of the Associated Press photographed the fire engulfing the airship while it was still on even keel using his 4 x 5 Speed Graphic camera. His next photograph (see right), shows flames bursting out of the nose as the bow telescoped upwards. In addition to professional photographers, spectators also photographed the crash. They were stationed in the spectators' area near Hangar No. 1, and had a side-rear view of the airship. Customs broker Arthur Cofod Jr. and 16 year-old Foo Chu both had Leica cameras with high speed film, allowing them to take a larger number of photographs than the press photographers. Nine of Cofod's photographs were printed in LIFE magazine while Chu's photographs were shown in the New York Daily News.

The newsreels and photographs, along with Morrison's passionate reporting shattered public and industry faith in airships and marked the end of the giant passenger-carrying airships. Also contributing to the downfall of Zeppelins was the arrival of international passenger air travel and Pan American Airlines. Heavier-than-air aircraft regularly crossed the Atlantic and Pacific much faster than the 130 km/h (80 mph) speed of the Hindenburg. The one advantage that the Hindenburg had over such aircraft was the comfort that she afforded her passengers, much like that of an ocean liner. In contrast to the media coverage in the United States, media coverage of the disaster in Germany was more subdued. Although some photographs of the disaster were published in newspapers, the newsreel footage was not released until after World War II. Additionally, German victims were memorialized in a similar manner to fallen war heroes, and grassroots movements to fund zeppelin construction (as the case with the LZ4 crash in 1908) was expressly forbidden by the Nazi government. There had been a series of other airship accidents prior to the Hindenburg fire; many were caused by bad weather. The Graf Zeppelin had flown safely for more than 1.6 million kilometers (1.0 million miles), including the first circumnavigation of the globe by an airship. The Zeppelin company's promotions had prominently featured the fact that no passenger had been injured on any of its airships.

It's practically standing still now they've dropped ropes out of the nose of the ship; and (uh) they've been taken ahold of down on the field by a number of men. It's starting to rain again; it's... the rain had (uh) slacked up a little bit. The back motors of the ship are just holding it (uh) just enough to keep it from...It's burst into flames! 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. Oh it's... [unintelligible] its flames... Crashing, 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 in 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. I told you; it – I can't even talk to people, their friends are on there! Ah! It's... it... it's a... ah! I... I can't talk, ladies and gentlemen. Honest: it's just laying there, mass of smoking wreckage. Ah! And everybody can hardly breathe and talk and the screaming. I... I... I'm sorry. Honest: I... I can hardly breathe. I... I'm going to step inside, where I cannot see it. Charlie, that's terrible. Ah, ah... I can't. Listen, folks; I... I'm gonna have to stop for a minute because I've lost my voice. This is the worst thing I've ever witnessed.

The disaster was well-documented because of the combination of many news crews having been on site at the time of the airship exploding and the significant extent of newsreel coverage and photographs, as well as Herbert Morrison's eyewitness radio report for station WLS in Chicago, which was broadcast the next day. Heavy publicity about the first transatlantic passenger flight of the year by Zeppelin to the United States attracted a large number of journalists to the landing. (The airship had already made one round trip from Germany to Brazil that year.) Morrison's broadcast remains one of the most famous in history. Parts of it were later dubbed onto newsreel footage, giving the impression that the words and film were recorded together. His plaintive, “Oh, the humanity!” has been widely used in popular culture.

Forecast: Disaster - References - Netflix