10 Worst Airship Disasters in History


Image: U.S. Navy

10. July 6, 1960: U.S. Navy ZPG-3W

The 403-foot-long N-Class ZPG-3W was the largest non-rigid airship ever built. Manufactured by the Goodyear Aircraft Company, it served in the U.S. Navy from 1958 until 1962.

N-Class airships were primarily used as part of the North American early warning system during the first half of the Cold War, their purpose being to fill in radar gaps. Ironically, the ZPG-3W that crashed on July 6, 1960 was on a rescue mission off Long Beach Island, New Jersey, searching for a missing yacht.

The commander of the Lakehurst Naval Air Station, captain Marion H. Eppes, described the crash that occurred as “violent”. Moments after the airship plunged into the water, only the tail could be seen. According to journalist Andrew Meisels, who was present at the scene, bits of the crashed blimp “floated on the water like pieces of a toy balloon.” The cause of the crash is still disputed. What is clear, though, is that 18 sailors were killed, and this contributed to the end of the Navy’s airship program.

Image: Unknown via Pilot und Luftschiff

9. November 10, 1915: Imperial German Navy Schütte-Lanz SL6

At the beginning of the 20th century, Ferdinand von Zeppelin had one competitor in the airship-building business: the Schütte-Lanz Company. Made of wood and plywood, instead of alloys like the Zeppelins, Schütte-Lanz airships had some distinct disadvantages. For one, the glue binding their joints together was susceptible to moisture. What’s more, the entire ship itself was compromised if water penetrated its outer waterproof layer. And for an airship that did maritime service, this was not good news.

Yet it was not sodden wood that brought down the Schütte-Lanz SL6 (the predecessor to the SL7, pictured here) shortly after it took off from the Seddin Airbase in Pomerania, on November 10, 1915. Instead, it was an explosion, the cause of which remains a mystery – but an explosion that destroyed the airship and killed all 20 on board.


Image: Unknown via ZP

8. April 7, 1918: Imperial German Navy L 59 (Zeppelin LZ 104)

The Zeppelin LZ 104 airship, also known as the “Africa Ship”, was operated by the German Navy. The Zeppelin’s nickname stemmed from its best-known attempted mission – to resupply the German garrison in East Africa in 1917. The mission was aborted before the Zeppelin reached the garrison, and it returned to base in Jamboli, Bulgaria after almost four grueling days of flight. Amazingly, the ship had enough fuel for another 64 hours in the air – an airship record at the time.

Yet the airship would soon be associated with catastrophe. On April 7, 1918, the LZ 104 was dispatched to Malta to attack the British Naval base there. A German submarine watched the ship fly overhead. Then, after two fire bursts were observed on the Zeppelin, it was seen engulfed in flames and nose-diving into the ocean. All 21 on board the ship were killed. The cause of the crash is thought to have been an accident.