Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The topic for this week’s blog is brought to you by my mother who loves obscure historical facts as much as I do. I guess that means I come by my interest in Minutiae of the Past from her. One might wonder if it's a genetic or learned trait. Or both.

Anyway, my mom sent me information about the USS Akron, a helium-filled rigid airship of the United States Navy that was lost in a weather-related accident off the New Jersey coast on April 4, 1933.

When most of us think of helium-filled airships, we think of the Hindenburg which crashed on May 6, 1937. Who can forget the newsman who cried, “Oh, the humanity!”  Of the 97 on board the Hindenburg, there were 35 fatalities, along with one death among the ground crew.

But when the USS Akron crashed four years earlier, 73 of the 76 people aboard died, making it the largest loss of life for any airship disaster on record. Because the crash was in the Atlantic Ocean, with no photographers or newsman nearby, it didn’t have the impact of the Hindenburg.

In the Akron's 18-month term of service in the Navy it served as a flying aircraft carrier for launching F9C Sparrowhawk biplane fighters, as well as other duties. Some say the Akron was jinxed. It was involved in three accidents before its final flight. In one accident, its tail slammed into the ground several times. Another accident killed two sailors.

The cause of the crash on April 4th was likely bad weather combined with poor decisions by the ship’s commander, Frank C. McCord, who died in the accident. It’s thought that McCord relied on incorrect altitude readings given by the ship’s altimeter, which was rendered inaccurate by the storm’s low pressure. Perhaps McCord thought his ship was higher than it was. It is also possible that McCord simply flew the ship’s tail into the water while attempting to escape a downdraft, and when the nose rose sharply, the tail may have simply pivoted into the ocean. Either way, poor handling was probably responsible for the crash.

There are a number of websites with detailed information about the crash, including the following:


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