Armenian political rally ends in tragedy when political hydrogen balloons burst into flames


91 Responses to “Armenian political rally ends in tragedy when political hydrogen balloons burst into flames”

  1. Tommy Timefishblue says:


  2. This is indeed a horrible event, but whether such an obvious human error (or stupidity) counts as “tragedy” is anyone’s guess – to me, it’s simply a bad thing that happened

  3. Wayne Dyer says:

    Helium is expensive these days.  Hydrogen’s cheap.

    • TaymonBeal says:

      Which, if I recall correctly, is why the Hindenburg used it.

      • Mantissa128 says:

        I thought that was still a bit of a puzzle. Hydrogen burns quickly and cleanly, and wouldn’t have created quite the fireshow the Hindenburg became. I recall the current contender is the coating they used on the outside of the blimp.

        I guess we’re either going to have to get used to no helium on the planet anymore, flammable balloons, or no floaty balloons.

        • Jo Shields says:

          The coating was a mix of iron & aluminium oxide. AKA “thermite”, used to weld train tracks.

        • fuzzyfuzzyfungus says:

          Aircraft dope, commonly used to coat fabric-skinned aircraft(available for the purpose at hobby shops to this day) is crazy flammable.

          In this case, it wouldn’t entirely surprise me if some sort of rubber or elastomeric polymer was what fell, still burning and all nice and sticks-to-the-flesh-y on the crowd.

          • BombBlastLightingWaltz says:

            But it was cost effective in the budget analyse. 

          •  Most likely. Hydrogen burns with an almost-invisible flame. Those orange-coloured flames you see in the video are caused by burning carbon, from the balloons themselves.

        • DevinC says:

          Mythbusters did an experiment on this, using a mini-Hindenburg filled with hydrogen (but no iron/aluminium doping), another filled with helium (with iron/aluminium coating) and a third with both hydrogen and iron/aluminium coating.  

          Seeing as their sample size was one in each case, the results may be somewhat suspect.  But the Miniberg filled with helium burned far, far too slow.  The Miniberg filled with hydrogen burned much quicker, with the last burning slightly quicker than the hydrogen-no-coating version.  

          What struck me most, however, was that the last simulation included a sparking effect, where the coating ignited and sometimes drifted away, very similar to that seen in the actual footage of the disaster.  The conclusion I took away was that the coating played only a very small role in the disaster, though it did add interesting visuals.

          1st Miniberg:
          2nd Miniberg:    
          3rd Miniberg:

          • I recall watching a documentary on the Hindenberg where they managed to get some of the original fabric from the same lot used on the Hindenburg that had been treated, but not put on the airframe, or something.  It was placed in a frame and ignited with a spark, and burned like gasoline. 

      • sockdoll says:

        Dirigibles also used hydrogen because it is more buoyant than helium.

      • hacky says:

        I think the price was extra-high at the time because  the US wouldn’t export He to Nazi Germany. 

  4. Haakon IV says:

    The NY Times story on this included this line:

    “Nikolai Grigoryan, the deputy director of Armenia’s rescue service, told the Novosti Armenia news agency that the balloons had been filled with helium and were ignited by a bystander’s cigarette. However, helium is an inert gas that does not burn.”

  5. tylerkaraszewski says:

    Take an old wine bottle, add about three inches of lye (you can get it anywhere that has kitchen cleaners, next to the draino) dissolved in water. Cut up a couple square feet of aluminum foil and drop it in. Stretch a party balloon over the top of the bottle and wait for it to inflate. When it’s full, pull it off the bottle and tie it. Three minute hydrogen balloon.

    • theophrastvs says:

       …then, tape a match head to the side of the balloon and attach a few inches of  twisted-up steel wool (cuz it won’t blow out in the wind), and wait until the wind is gently blowing over ol’man Taylor’s house, light it and release, and then wait giggling… *womp* out he races with his broom yelling at you “dirty kids” for something other than your baseball landing in his hydrangeas for a change.   (next up:  “nitrogen triiodide and the wild times in the culvert”)

      • Jay Converse says:

        When my buddy had the key to the high school chemistry supply closet, we stole big bottles of pure iodine and ammonium hydroxide, and whipped up a huge batch of nitrogen triiodide.  We poured out the saturated solution on the sidewalk well in advance of class changing, so that the crystals would be dry and ready.  

        Such joy as classes let out, and the ground snapped and popped and smoked beneath their shoes.   Then terror as we saw one girl approach in bare feet (it was the 70′s).  But she somehow missed all the crystals, she must have walked in someone else’s footprints.  Good times…

        • RoofusKit says:

          The good ‘ole days, when the key to the chemistry supply closet got you more than baking soda and vinegar.

        • redesigned says:

          instead of breaking bad you were cracking up.

        • nem0fazer says:

          Also in the 70s we scattered it around the stage before an evening performance of a school play we were involved in. I’d forgotten until this moment. A rare happy moment in a miserable school life in a UK public (private) school.

    • bcsizemo says:

      Or conversely instead of using an ultra strong base, you could use HCl acid in the form of  The Works toilet bowl cleaner. 

      We “experimented” with soda bottles, tin foil, and toilet bowl cleaner….

      -From experience the cheaper the foil the better.
      -If you need it faster than a few minutes use a small chunk of magnesium firestarter.  (But be warned, the solution will get hot enough to burn you.)

      • BombBlastLightingWaltz says:

        Guano nitrate any one? Mr. Creosote proportions? Demolicious.

      • Sean Nelson says:

        Also, kids, check your HCl percentage on the label.  The Works with the blue cap is at least twice the concentration of any of the competitors I could find in my local department store.

  6. oskarn says:

    Haven’t they heard of the Hindenburg? Never forget!

  7. kangarara says:

    Helium’s not just expensive, we’re running out of it, globally. Perhaps balloons aren’t the best use of it anymore.

    • Whispers: hydrogen, not helium :)

    • nox says:

      I was under the impression that helium prices were artificially low due to the US selling off their stockpiles:

      • Seth Gallmeyer says:

        Yes, but the stockpiles are running out and much of the supply of helium is being diverted to the LHC. Helium is getting stupid expensive right now.

    • bluest_one says:



      • RoofusKit says:

        We would actually mine the moon first, it’s got tons of helium stored up from billions of years of being hit by solar winds without any atmosphere.

        • jtegnell says:

          The problem is that, after three years in isolation mining the helium, most people would flip out. Plus the retirement bonuses would out of necessity be extravagant.

          There must be some way around that. There must be!

          • OtherMichael says:

             But their squeaky phone-calls home would be comedy gold. Even more so when they start losing their s–t in a higher register.

          • Halloween_Jack says:

             after three years in isolation mining the helium, most people would flip out.

            Me. XBox. Skyrim. Problem solved. (Still haven’t finished Oblivion, or Fallout 3, or Saint’s Row, or…)

          • Warren_Terra says:

            Halloween_Jack, you may have missed a reference there.

            In completely unrelated news, Moon is a fun movie.

          • Kimmo says:

            My favourite scifi flick in quite a while.

            Currently experiencing goosebumps remembering it. The music was bloody excellent.

        • OtherMichael says:

           Oh, brilliant. Mine the helium from the moon, and the damn thing will fall on our heads!

          • Halloween_Jack says:

             All they need to do is make the hole on the near side, and it will blow away in a big loopy helix when the drill is withdrawn.

          • BombBlastLightingWaltz says:

            Or float away due to lost ambient attraction. The lack of gas matter extracted could lessens the moon’s whole mass, allowing it to drifts off, very slowly. Eventually, the waters would never tide with ebb and flow.

          • Sean Nelson says:

            Geeze, BombBlastLightningWaltz, what a downer.  I prefer the big loopy helix idea.

    • fuzzyfuzzyfungus says:

      Arguably, given helium’s scarcity and near-absolute non-renew-ability, the stuff is far too cheap.

      It’s too light to remain in the atmosphere for long, so what escapes is generally lost for good, and waiting for more to be produced by alpha decay or fusion is tedious on a geologic timescale. It also happens to be a uniquely capable cryogen and a nice shield gas. Bring on the hydrogen balloons.

  8. Seriously? What do you expect when you fill balloons with political hydrogen? The regular stuff is volatile enough, but political hydrogen is just looking to cause problems.

  9. Guest says:

    I’d call that some serious dirty tricks. I see ratfucking.

  10. paulehoffman says:

    This has happened many times over the years. Someone sees a large canister that says “hydrogen” and they read “helium”. They fill a balloon with it, and the balloon floats as it should. They fill a bunch more balloons.

    The thing that is hard to figure out is how the balloons ignited. A hydrogen-filled balloon will not ignite without a flame and a ready source of oxygen.

    “Dirty tricks” sounds plausible, unfortunately.

    • Guest says:

       Yeah. and people always line up in an orderly line throught the middle of a contentious rally with their helium balloons. Every time, without fail. In a near perfect line.

    • Petzl says:

      How hard is it to figure out when it be when everyone in the crowd was probably smoking? As for ready source of oxygen, how about: air?

      If you’re going dirty tricks/conspiracy angle, it’s finding out who supplied the H2 tanks. But it still smells like incompetence/negligence, not conspiracy.

    • bcsizemo says:

      My thought was more along the line of high powered laser pointer…
      Don’t know if that we create enough of a source of ignition or not.

    • DevinC says:

      Do not ascribe to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity.

      • Kimmo says:

        Although a fairly decent rule of thumb, too many folks heeding it are apt to let a great deal of malice go unanswered.

        Plus, it’s a blurry line; what’s altruism if not enlightened self-interest?

    • If you have a flame the oxygen in the atmosphere will be enough to sustain complete combustion of a balloon full of hydrogen.

      We used to fill balloons up with pure hydrogen all the time in high school physics class and light them indoors. Not a big deal. You get a big WHOOSH and that is it. Large orange fireball and then nothing.

      Now if you fill a balloon with some hydrogen and then add oxygen you can get a big bang. We filled a giant (4 foot diameter) balloon with oxygen in high school, took it out to the parking lot, attached a fuse, lit it and let go. The thing took off into the air and twenty seconds later there was a huge BOOM. That could have done some damage had it been near something.

  11. Russell says:

    It’s a relief uranium klaxons never caught on.

  12. taras says:

    Improper storage of flammable substances = storing them in a balloon near lots of people.

  13. SoItBegins says:


  14. Antinous / Moderator says:

    Kazakhstan says ‘thank you’, forwards copy to Sacha Baron-Cohen.

  15. hugh crawford says:

    All things considered hydrogen balloons burning overhead has as favorable a spectacle to ouch ratio as anything I can think of, but it’s not the sort of thing you want to happen unexpectedly, or with a bald head, nylon windbreaker, or hairspray nearby. 

    Setting off a drycleaning bag full of  hydrogen at the end of a xxx* foot string was a fun outdoor party trick when I was a kid. These were the same sort of parties where someone would throw an old vw engine into the bonfire,  so a flaming gasbag wasn’t even close to the craziest thing happening.

    *if you try this at home , figure out what is a reasonable length of string on your own

  16. Ladyfingers says:

    Perhaps somebody quoted for helium, but used hydrogen and pocketed the difference.

    • Guest says:

      Probably more likely than the dirty tricks, but then again, Watergate started with a ho-hum burglary.

  17. Purplecat says:

    From what video we have, this looks odd. As mentioned upthread, Hydrogen burns cleanly almost without a visible flame.  That yellow flame looks much more like a hydrocarbon flame, burning in insufficient oxygen. I suppose it could be partially due to the latex all going up in flames, but this looks big.

    • bcsizemo says:

      Several people have mentioned the fact hydrogen burns very clean, but that technically only works in a stoichiometric environment.  Here you’d have a bubble of relatively pure H2 pushing outward.  Only the leading edge of the expanding sphere of hydrogen would have contact with any oxygen.  The color may be do to an incomplete burn as the flame front and oxygen move inward toward the center of the hydrogen sphere.

      I’m willing to be if you mixed the correct ration of hydrogen to oxygen in a balloon and ignited it, you’d see very little flame.  (Of course the balloon probably wouldn’t float either.)

      • It floats just fine. In the correct ratio it is still one third hydrogen. And yes, you see a big flash. A balloon of pure hydrogen on the other hand produces an orange fireball in my experience.

    • Haakon IV says:

       The blue flame in the above video looks to me identical to the one in the following:

      • Ultan says:

         There isn’t any blue flame visible in either, both are yellow, with some hints of red that might actually be violet. It would look quite different in a spectrogram, no doubt.

  18. Blaine says:

    The two most common elements in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity.

  19. Mikey says:

    When I was a kid we lived in Jakarta and there were these guys that would ride around the neighborhood on bikes and sell balloons filled with hydrogen that they made themselves in tanks attached to the bike.  Every so often they would stop and have to pour water on the tank and the burlap covering it.

    The balloons were like 10 cents so we’d by several and then light them off with matches.  They looked just like that video (except way smaller)…a big orange fireball.

  20. Bill Beaty says:

    Lecture demo people know not to inflate/store hydrogen balloons.  You must make them on site as needed, since the slightest electrostatic discharge will make them explode.

    It’s possible to do H2 balloons safely by eliminating the static electric danger: by spraying them with detergent-water.

    Rubbing balloons on your hair, or even letting them brush against your clothing  …that’s only safe if your balloons are always inflated with helium.

  21. BBNinja says:

    Good lord, that’s awful!  Doesn’t Armenia have access to clowns with helium tanks?!

  22. Genre Slur says:

    If this were a film, everyone would be pointing out the ‘goof’/revealing mistake of seeing a vehicle marked ‘Ambulance’. Though Armenia probably uses english words on their civic vehicles.

  23. chrisspurgeon says:

    To conserve helium, I imagine you could mix it with some hydrogen, couldn’t you?  What would be the highest hydrogen/helium ration you’d want to use where there would still be no danger of combustion?

    • IRMO says:

      A careful mix of helium and nitrogen will give your balloon enough bouyancy without the risk.

      That said, I WOULD prefer to use hydrogen since balloons are an incredibly frivolous use of helium. But, if you go that route, you do need to keep the balloons high enough not to burn people. Even so, this incident doesn’t look all that bad. 

  24. Roland says:

    LMAO, I thought Armenians were supposed to be an intelligent people.  You’d think all of the chess playing and the political lobbying in the U.S. would’ve prepared their minds to comprehend the risk of draping pure hydrogen balloons immediately above the heads of people at a political rally.

    • DevinC says:

      I collect sweeping generalizations, and these are some of the biggest and most grand I have seen of recent.  May I add them to my collection?  I promise to take good care of them.

  25. Jan Angevine says:

    The Armenians are an unlucky lot.

  26. IsaacR says:

         Hindenburg was filled with hydrogen because the only Helium available in the world was located in America. The defense industry put an embargo on it since it was necessary to fill America’s rigid airships of the time(Not blimps. The Hindenburg isn’t a blimp either. It’s a zeppelin). At that point in time helium was so scarce that most of it could actually be found stored in the rigid airships themselves. The second airship ever to be filled with helium actually had to use helium siphoned off another helium filled airship. And yes, the aircraft dope which was used on the Hindenburg was in fact very flammable.

         Second, doesn’t hydrogen burn at a fairly low temperature? It is my understanding that it cannot burn you, at least that’s what I’ve been told. I’m no scientist here. It would be the latex that burns you.

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