Great view, but a stupid idea




I had gone to the Totem Pole Restaurant for tea the morning of May 18. Someone there said the mountain erupted, so I called my husband and told him the mountain just erupted and asked him to schedule a plane so we could go up and see it. He called Evergreen Airport, and we were in the air before 10 a.m. and were still in the air, southwesterly of the mountain, when the second eruption started around 10:30; I have a few photographs from that morning though they were taken through the pitted airplane window.

There are two things for certain. The first is we had one of the best views possible of the eruption. The second is that it was, without question, a truly stupid thing to have done as a shift in the wind would have cost our lives. We did not even remotely think it through. It still amazes me that the airspace was not closed until noon that day. There were at least half a dozen planes flying that morning; none of us should have been up there!

At the time, neither of us realized the seriousness of what we did, nor did Wally Olson, who operated the airport. He would never have allowed his planes off the ground had he realized.

Later in the afternoon, our three sons and I went to Fargher Lake and watched the volcano billowing out ash. Somewhere in our family films, I have three 50-foot rolls of 8mm film of the billowing clouds of ash taken that afternoon as we watched. As all of those who have watched film of the eruptions can attest, it was quite amazing to watch.

That evening, not realizing the devastation of the ash fall in the Yakima Valley, I called my grandmother in Wapato and asked her to save me some ash.

My grandmother, who have never sworn in her life, said, “You save your own damned ash.” It was later in the week when I learned that where they were, at noon it was as dark as midnight with a new moon, totally black.

The next morning, a friend who was in the National Guard on drill at the firing center that weekend told me how bad it was over there. He and a friend had gotten out just before the worst hit and clogged the air filters in the vehicles, making them useless.