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Mystery solved: Static electricity caused Hindenburg disaster

March 4, 2013 at 1:32 PM   |   Comments

March 4 (UPI) -- Seventy six years after the Hindenburg Disaster took the lives of 35 people aboard the German passenger airship LZ 129 Hindenburg, a group of scientists have finally found out what caused the in-flight explosion.

New research indicates the Hindenburg's explosion was brought on by a hydrogen leak coupled with static electricity that built up in the craft as it flew into a thunderstorm, the Daily Mail reported.

With nearly 100 people on board, the 245 meter-long (about 800 feet) airship was preparing to land at Lakehurst, New Jersey when it exploded and dove to the ground, ending the age of airships with its fall.

In the past, investigators were not able to conclude what caused the spark or the gas leak, leading many to come up with several conspiracy theories to explain the explosion, but now, British aeronautical engineer Jem Stansfield, and a team of researchers claim to have the answer and plan to expose their findings in a documentary that will air on Britain's Channel 4 on Thursday.

According to Stansfield, the airship reportedly became charged with static as a result of the electrical storm and either broken wire or a sticking gas valve leaked the hydrogen into the ventilation shafts. It is believed the fire started on the tail of the airship, igniting the leaking hydrogen.

"I think the most likely mechanism for providing the spark is electrostatic," Stansfield said. "That starts at the top, then the flames from our experiments would've probably tracked down to the center. With an explosive mixture of gas, that gave the whoomph when it got to the bottom."

Researches claim they began conducting the experiments to rule out conspiracy theories that arose after investigators couldn't agree on what caused the spark or the leaking gas that ultimately led to the explosion, the Independent reported.

Based at the South West Research Institute in the U.S., Stansfield and his team reached their conclusions by setting fire to 24 meter-long (80 feet) scale models of the Hindenburg. They expect their findings will put an end to theories claiming the explosion was brought on by a bomb planted by a terrorist or the explosive properties of the paint used to coat the ship.

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