Mount St. Helens pictures stir scary memory

The story attached to this blog has brought back some chilling memories of my own relating to Mount St. Helens.

I’ll share them here.

The story tells of pictures that the late Reid Blackburn took in April 1980, a month before the mountain blew apart. He was a staff photographer for the Vancouver (Wash.) Columbian. Blackburn died May 18, 1980 when the north side of the volcano exploded.

I’ve got my own Mount St. Helens story that I don’t tell too often.

It involves an acquaintance I made when I was working for the now-defunct Oregon City (Ore.) Enterprise-Courier just south of Portland.

I wrote a feature story about a young man who, along with his father, refurbished old airplanes. He took me on a flight aboard a bi-plane he had fixed up. We were airborne for maybe 30 minutes. We landed and then I asked him for a favor. Media were reporting that Mount St. Helens was about to erupt and would he take to the mountain in the event of an eruption — or some activity that lent itself to pictures?

He agreed.

In late March (I think it was the 27th) the wires began reporting that earthquakes had started rumbling through the mountain and that smallish craters were forming around the summit. I called my “new best friend.” He was available. I drove quickly to his place in the country, and climbed aboard a single-engine, two-seat Cessna. We took off and headed straight north.

The flight lasted about 45 minutes. We got to the summit, I had gotten my camera out and we buzzed the summit repeatedly, watching the craters forming; ice would fall into the newly formed fissures.

Back and forth we flew. I guess we were in the air over the mountain for maybe 20 minutes. I snapped dozens of pictures.

We flew back to his landing strip just south of Oregon City.

A point of information: We had no radio aboard. Thus, we were not advised that the Federal Aviation Administration had declared the airspace several miles around the summit to be off-limits.

The statue of limitations now allows me to confess to breaking federal aviation law that day.

Happily, no one ratted us out. My pal never got into trouble. I got some memorable pictures, which we published in the next day’s paper. And I will keep those memories with me forever.


One post script: I told my dad about what we had done and he gave me a royal butt-chewing.

Then we laughed.