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The Eruption of Mt. St. Helens

Remembering the amateur radio
account by Gerry Martin W7WFP

On Sunday, March 27, 1980, a series of volcanic explosions and pyroclastic flows began at Mount St. Helens in Skamania County, Washington, United States. A series of phreatic blasts occurred from the summit and escalated until a major explosive eruption took place 44 years ago today, on Sunday, May 18, 1980, at 8:32 am. The eruption, which had a volcanic explosivity index of 5, was the first to occur in the contiguous United States since the much smaller 1915 eruption of Lassen Peak in California. It has often been declared the most disastrous volcanic eruption in U.S. history.

Mt. St. Helens one day before the eruption and 4 months afterwards

The Role of Amateur Radio - Gerry Martin W7WFP

Gerry, 64, was a volunteer ham radio operator who was monitoring the mountain for the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service. The day before the eruption, he drove his motor home onto a ridge a couple miles north and slightly higher than the geologists’ observation post. When the mountain erupted, he reported to the other ham operators monitoring the volcano, “Gentlemen, the camper and car that’s sitting over to the south of me is covered. It’s going to hit me, too.” As with Dave Johnston, no trace of Martin or his motor home was ever found. The audio account of his observations as the mountain erupted is in an Oregon Public Broadcasting article. The article also has a link to a video of the event.

The eruption claimed the lives of 57 people, mostly through the effects of ash asphyxiation.


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