Lakehurst, New Jersey is not only the site of a naval base but also one of the most well known disasters in the 20th Century. The LZ 129 Hindenburg was a large German commercial passenger-carrying rigid airship, and the largest flying machines of any kind (by dimension) ever built. Named after the former German president Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg, the airship was built for regular transatlantic passenger operations.
Construction began in 1931 and completed five years later. Hindenburg had a Duralumin structure, incorporating 15 Ferris wheel-like bulkheads along its length with 16 cotton gas bags fitted between these. The airship's skin was of cotton doped (plasticised lacquer) with a mixture of reflective materials intended to protect the gas bags within from both ultraviolet and infrared. The upper A Deck contained small passenger quarters in the middle along with large public rooms including a dining room to port, lounge and writing room to starboard. Long slanted windows ran the length of both decks. The lower B Deck contained washrooms, a mess hall for the crew, and a smoking lounge. During the winter of 1936-37, the greater lift capacity allowed 10 passenger cabins to be added, nine with two beds and one with four beds, increasing the total passenger capacity to 72. "Gutters" were also installed to collect rain for use as water ballast. Hindenburg made 17 round trips across the Atlantic Ocean in 1936 during its first and only full year of service.
The Hindenburg left Frankfurt for Lakehurst, New Jersey on the evening of May 3, its first scheduled round trip between Europe and the United States that season. At 7:00 pm on May 6, 1937, the airship approached Naval Air Station Lakehurst after a routine flight. Twenty five minutes later, the aircraft caught fire and crashed. Became completely engulfed in only 37 seconds. Ninety-two people were on board, 36 passengers and 61 crew. Thirteen passengers and twenty-three crew members, including one of the ground crew, were killed, equaling a total of 36 fatalities. The actual cause of the fire remains unknown although many theories have surfaced over the years including lightning, static electricity, sabotage, fuel leak and engine failure.
TAPS completed a three day investigation of Naval Air Station Hangar 1 which housed the infamous airship, the Hindenburg crash site and the Branch Medical Clinic. During the daytime, men have been heard shouting such things as "Away the lines, Christ be blessed, away the lines!" and "She's afire!" outside the hangar. Inside, the sound of engines have been heard when no equipment is in operation during morning hours. Apparitions of the Hindenburg and US Navy dirigible personnel have been seen wandering the location.
The crash site is open for tours. However, since it is located on an active naval base, you have to be screened weeks in advance. To tour the crash site you need to call the Navy Lakehurst Historical Society at least two weeks in advance to register and be approved (U.S. citizens only). Tours are given every Wednesday and 2nd and 4th Saturday of each month.