Sunday, January 1, 2012


Two men leave a blimp gondola hundreds of feet in the air. There are two parachutes on board.
Why are they still there on board the L-8 after the wreck is investigated? Why not use them if you find it necessary to leave the gondola?
Blimps were used for a number of scientific and military uses before and during the war. They made excellent platforms for working since they could stay up for long periods and hard room for small groups of workers. Blimps During the war, blimps were used for patrolling and heavy lifting. The K-series blimps, K-1 through 4 offered more room and lift than the L-series.

They were platforms used in the years leading up to the year, used by the military and organizations like the NDRC (National Defense research Committee), as a safe and reliable workspace.

But there were accidents even though precautions were taken. An inflatable raft and parachutes were provided on- board. Life-preserver vests, colloquially known as 'Mae West’s', named for the actress with a similar physical attribute that was produced by wearing the vest.
There are a few logic problems I think need to be reviewed if we're to come to a real conclusion to the mystery. Some of these involve the parachutes that were found untouched, on board the L-8 gondola after crews were sent to the crash site.

Parachute jumps from blimps were part of the standard training that crews went through. Should the crew need to leave the gondola in an emergency in the air, they would have been able to do so if the blimp was above 600 feet. Jumping at a lower height would not necessarily give the parachute enough time to deploy and have the envelope fill with air, slowing the jumpers descendent enough to survive the fall. German paratroopers were trained to jump at even lower altitudes – though I no statistics as to how the survival rates of the two groups compared!

My problem starts with the fact the parachutes are left untouched inside the ship.

If the crew were forced to leave the gondola lower than the minimum height that would assure a successful parachute jump, I think that human psychology would kick in and the crew would have donned the parachutes, even if for nothing other than comfort.

If the emergency was not going to cause an immediate crash of the blimp, the crew was trained to free balloon inside the gondola, dropping weight or releasing helium to control descent. They were a special breed of men who didn’t panic even under the most extreme circumstances. Quick, sure, independent thinkers, they were used to handling problems on their own. Each had gone through years of schooling. In the case of the co-pilot, Charles Adams, he had logged a huge amount of time aboard airships over the years. Both men were comfortable in stress-filled, life threatening situations. Adams was present at the attack on Pearl Harbor firing a deck gun at Japanese Zero fighter planes. He was also at the crash of the Hindenburg as part of the ground crew seen running towards the burning wreckage even before it completely settled on the air field.

With that type of hands on, combat proven experience, I find it hard to believe they died as a result of a panicky decision. Having read about their lives and the service records of the blimp pilots, it’s just not a likely scenario.

If the emergency required a man to go outside of the gondola, say for example, something became entangled in an engine mount or cowl that could become a bigger problem. While there were no harnesses, it would even be possible that they might put on the parachutes as a safety precaution. It may have been over-confidence on their part that they could handle the situation, working without a net. But these two men were heading home, nearing Treasure Island and help. Surely the radio calls would bring help.

It would also seem unlikely both men would leave the gondola to fix a problem outside of the gondola, and one falling accidently, taking the other to their death.

But let us consider physics and what may have happened. If one were outside, the other in with an open door, the sudden loss of weight would cause a bounce that may have dislodged the second man through the open door. A reasonable point I think.

But I would still be left with wondering what circumstances would not mean an immediate jump using the parachutes while they attempted to fix the problem.

I’m left with two possibilities. First, that they either were in a situation that left them unable to put on the parachutes and while doing so, one fell, causing the other to dislodge.  The other possibility is that they jumped unable to help themselves, the autonomic response similar to people who jump from a burning building.

Curiouser and curiouser.