Tuesday, October 4, 2011

This Day in History October 5, 1930

Did you ever used to watch the Goodyear blimp as you were growing up?  I was always excited to look up and see it in the sky or see it on TV.  I don't know why it was fascinating to me, but it was.  I can remember wanting to ride in that blimp.  I don't think about blimps much these days, but this day in history concerns a terrible tragedy concerning a blimp.

Dirigibles or Airships (the real term for blimps) date back to as early as 1783.  In 1785, Jean Pierre Blanchard crossed the English Channel with a balloon equipped with flapping wings and a bird-like tail. In 1852, Henri Giffard flew 17 miles in a steam-powered airship. They continued to be perfected well into the 20th century.

In the 1920's, the major European powers competed to build bigger and better blimps in order to rule the airspace.  The R-101 (pictured at the beginning of this post) was Great Britain's finest achievement.It was 777 feet long, weighed 150 tons, and could carry up to 100 passengers.  Six Rolls Royce engines were its source of power.

Its maiden voyage was fraught with trouble, and it was grounded for nearly a year.  And it was October of 1930 when it was brought back into service. Lord Thompson was the great champion of this cause.  He was one of the four passengers that day along with 52 crew members.  With great anticipation of a Far Eastern destination, the blimp took of the evening of October 4, 1930. (Some sites say October 5--I wish all the sites would agree.  It seems that no matter what that the crash happened on October 5.)

From the beginning, there was real trouble.  The crew accidentally released four tons of water ballast that was meant to control the altitude. They also took off in a horrible storm that was over the English Channel (even though blimps were known to be dangerous during bad weather).  Once the blimp reached the air over France, it was unable to keep level altitude.  Because of the blackness of the night, the pilots were unaware of the danger (they were flying only 250 feet above the town of Poix).  Within a very short time, the blimp began skimming the trees and then hit a small ridge.  The impact instantly ignited the hydrogen supply, and 48 of the 56 were killed (though some sites say all were killed).  Two men who at first were survivors later died in the hospital.  There are varying numbers listed,  so all I can really say is that almost all of the people on board were instantly killed.

The following video says there were 57 people aboard with 7 survivors. It is a long  video, so feel free  to watch portions of it or not at all.  But I found it sort of interesting.

For lots of great information, check out all these sites:

Here's hoping that we all have a better day today than these poor souls.


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