The 1937 Hindenburg explosion is history's most famous airship disaster, but a bigger, deadlier, and earlier one involved an American craft that will be commemorated this week, the AP finds. On April 4, 1933, the US Navy's 785-foot USS Akron airship plunged into the Atlantic Ocean during a violent storm off the coast of New Jersey, killing 73 of the 76 men aboard. The dirigible contained no life vests; one of the only three survivors, Lt. Cmdr. Herbert Wiley, was found clinging to a board.
"The order was given to stand by for a crash," Wiley said in a newsreel interview. "The ship hit the water within 30 seconds of that order and most of us, I believe, we catapulted into the water." The airship had been involved in three accidents before its final flight, and some of the men on board had survived the crash of the USS Shenandoah airship the previous year. A ceremony will be held this week in a New Jersey veterans park where a tiny plaque is dedicated to the victims. "It's almost a forgotten accident," a historian for the Navy Lakehurst Historical Society says. "The Akron deserves to be remembered." (Read more Hindenburg stories.)