Vintage home movie film provided by New Jersey radio amateur Bob Schenck, N2OO, was the highlight of a PBS documentary about the Hindenburg disaster. The film, shot by his uncle Harold Schenck, may provide clues as to what initiated the disastrous 1937 fire that destroyed the airship Hindenburg and claimed 35 lives as the German zeppelin was landing at Lakehurst, New Jersey. Harold Schenck tried to interest government investigators in his film, shot from a different angle than newsreel footage that begins only after the fire was well under way, but it was largely overlooked. “Nobody ever asked for it,” Bob Schenck explains in the documentary.
The Schenck film is the highlight of a PBS “NOVA” documentary, Hindenburg: The New Evidence, that investigates the issue in considerable depth in an effort to unlock the secrets of the cold case. The program aired on May 19 and remains available for streaming.
“My dad had bought this nifty Kodak camera — a wind-up movie camera, 8 millimeters — and he couldn’t come [to the Hindenburg landing] because he worked,” Bob Schenck recounted during the documentary. “So, he asked my uncle and my mom if they would take some shots and see the Hindenburg land.”
Bob Schenck approached Dan Grossman, an expert on airships, including Hindenburg, in 2012 during a commemoration of the disaster that forever memorialized radio reporter Herbert Morrison’s plaintive on-air reaction, “Oh, the humanity!” The NOVA documentary not only shares Schenck’s footage, which provided new clues to re-examine the cause of the explosion. The documentary also reviews scientific experiments that helped investigators come to a fresh understanding of what set off the fire.
The original investigation concluded only that the fire resulted from leaking hydrogen ignited by a spark, but it was never determined just what caused the spark. Witness accounts suggested the fire started near the airship’s tail, but supporting evidence was hard to find until the Schenck footage was examined.
“The Hindenburg remains vivid in our collective memories all these years later because of the searing images and film of the explosion,” said NOVA co-executive producer Chris Schmidt in a Manchester Patch article. “We feel honored to share this new footage with the world and to bring the NOVA audience behind the scenes of this pivotal new investigation into the crash.” — Some information from Manchester Patch; thanks to Pete Varounis, NL7XM