May 12th In Seal Beach History

On this date in 1932, the U.S.S. Akron was sighted off the coast of Seal Beach at 2:00 p.m on its way to an airbase in Sunnyvale. The Akron reached Sunnyvale at midnight, but weather conditions prevented it from mooring until late May 13th.

Today this U.S. Navy helium airship is best remembered for an April 1933 air disaster when it hit bad weather off the New Jersey shore and went down into the Atlantic Ocean, killing 73 of the 76 passengers and crew members. The Akron was designed for reconnaissance and could launch and retrieve scout biplanes in midair, but its full potential was never fully explored. In its brief 20 month history in the air, the USS Akron met with many accidents and mishaps, not the least of which happened the day before it passed Seal Beach in 1932.

The Akron had been sent on a coast to coast tour and arrived at Camp Kearny in San Diego County on May 11th.  While attempting to moor, the Akron unexpectedly lifted up, carrying with it three sailors from the ground crew hanging from the mooring line. Aviation Carpenter’s Mate 3rd Class Robert H. Edsall and Apprentice Seaman Nigel M. Henton lost their grip and fell hundreds of feet to their death while thousands watched. Apprentice Seaman C. M. “Bud” Cowart managed to secure himself to the line and hung on for two hours until a separate line winched him into the dirigible. The Akron safely moored at Camp Kearny later in the day and departed up the coast May 12th, just a few hours before the Seal Beach sighting. 

Here’s a clip on the Camp Kearny accident from a Discovery Channel special:


– Michael Dobkins

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