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The first aviation disaster caught on film

A routine press photo op in 1937 ended up recording the explosion of the greatest airship ever built.

Coleman Lowndes/Vox
Coleman Lowndes is a lead producer who has covered history, culture, and photography since joining the Vox video team in 2017.

A flying symbol of pride for Nazi Germany, the Hindenburg was the biggest and most elaborate airship ever built.

At a time when airplanes were only carrying one or two people across the Atlantic Ocean, the Hindenburg was flying paid passengers, who enjoyed its dining room, reading room, passenger lounge, and even smoking room.

It was an iconic luxury vessel, but it was filled with hydrogen, a flammable gas. In May 1937, on its first flight to the US that year, the airship crew rushed its landing in Lakehurst, New Jersey. The Hindenburg ended up exploding in front of a waiting group of newsreel cameras and becoming the first aviation disaster filmed as it was taking place.

Sam Shere’s iconic photo of the Hindenburg disaster.
Getty Images

Sam Shere’s photo of the moment just before the ship was entirely engulfed is now an iconic snapshot that manages to perfectly frame the entire disaster.

Darkroom is a new series from Vox producer Coleman Lowndes that digs into stories of the past, one photograph at a time. To learn more about the Hindenburg’s demise, check out the video above. And for more Vox videos, make sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel.