I remember the boom that Sunday morning, May 18th, 1980 – 33 years ago this week – as we were getting ready for church on Orcas Island, Washington. It was 8:32am – or however long it takes for sound to travel 300 miles. My oldest sister was off at college, my Dad was down in Oregon at work with the Air Force, and my other sister, our Mom, and I were slipping on our Sunday shoes and just about to head out the door when we heard it.
“Oh, they’re dynamiting on Buck Mountain,” Mom said dismissively.
But Jenny and I said, “No! It was Mount Saint Helens!”
“No,” Mom disagreed. “We couldn’t hear it this far away.”
“It was the mountain, Mom,” we said again. “Turn on the radio.”
Sure enough, Mount Saint Helens – which had been steaming and belching and threatening to explode for weeks – had finally blown her top. The mountain – the entire skyline of southern Washington State – was no longer the same. The north face of the mountain was gone.
And so were 57 people with her.
My father, LTC David K. Wendt, was a rescue helicopter pilot for the United States Air Force Reserve, based out of Portland, Oregon. Here’s what Dad had to say about May 18th:
“I was the duty officer that Sunday – in the RCC (Rescue Control Center) which was a madhouse!! We were getting calls from everybody – including the President of the United States (or the White House office, anyway, to set up a visit for President Carter.) I didn’t get to fly until Monday morning – when I found the Moore family. Lienau’s rescue was a week later.” (The following photographs will fill-out the stories of these people a little more.)
These are some of his photographs, taken over the next several days following the event on May 18th.
There are many, many more sites – I just choose a few which seemed especially good.
My Dad has had his photos used by the USGS, the Mt. St. Helens Interpretive Center, and this book, Fire Mountain. I have many reasons to be proud of my dad. The things he did during his Mount Saint Helens rescues are definitely some of them.
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Copyright May 14, 2013 by Gretchen Anne O’Donnell and Col. David K. Wendt, USAFR