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On Thursday, May 15, 1980, the USGS asked Puget Sound prof
Stewart Lowther if he would take one of its scientists up in his
plane for an aerial survey of Mount St. Helens. There had been
a series of earthquakes at the mountain during the previous
few months, and a bulge had formed on the north slope. Alas,
Stewart’s plane needed repairs, so the geologists postponed
their flight until Sunday the 18th. It was a fateful delay. A little
after 8:30 that morning, as Professor Lowther was banking
his Cessna 182 toward the volcano, the mountain exploded,
rocketing a pyroclastic flow toward Spirit Lake and sending a
massive cloud of ash 80,000 feet into the atmosphere. Lowther,
who was an accomplished aerial photographer, opened the
plane’s door, then, with his big Hasselblad in his left hand—
keeping one eye on the camera viewfinder and the other on
the instruments and windscreen, and his right hand at the
controls—snapped the first pictures of the eruption.
puget
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CATACLYSM
Stewart Lowther