May 6, 2014, is the 77th anniversary of the Hindenberg tragedy. Docking at its station in New Jersey, after crossing the Atlantic, a spark ignited the aluminum-based paint on the airship, and the entire craft exploded into flame.
35 people died on the airship, and one on the ground — did you know a few survived? The Associated Press interviewed a man who was 8-years old that day, and a passenger on the airship.
Werner Doehner, an 8-year-old passenger aboard the Hindenburg, saw chairs fall across the dining room door his father had walked through moments before the disaster. He would never see his father alive again.
“Just instantly, the whole place was on fire,” said Doehner, of Parachute, Colo., who is the last surviving passenger. “My mother threw me out the window. She threw my brother out. Then she threw me, but I hit something and bounced back. She caught me and threw me the second time out. My sister was just too heavy for her. My mother jumped out and fractured her pelvis. Regardless of that, she managed to walk.”
Hindenberg on fire, May 6, 1937.
The disaster erroneously condemned hydrogen in the public’s mind. Despite widespread use of hydrogen gas for cooking and some transportation during World War II (including in the U.S.), use of hydrogen as a fuel beyond that has always faced the hurdle of the “Hindenberg Syndrome,” the fear that the gas would explode.
Is the fear justified? Fact is that gasoline is much more volatile, more explosive, and generally more dangerous, than hydrogen. We move, and use, millions of gallons of gasoline in the U.S. every day, worldwide very hour, bound by laws enforcing strict liability, in relative safety. Most people don’t think about the explosive power of the few gallons of gasoline stored under the rear seat of their car, where the children ride.
What other technologies do we fear irrationally? What technologies do we irrationally fail to fear so much as we should?
This is mostly an encore post.