St. Helens, 25 Years Later

St. Helens, 25 Years Later »Play Video
SEATTLE - Twenty-five years ago, a KOMO 4 News photographer had a hunch. Dave Crockett headed to Mount St. Helens, pretty sure that "something" was going to happen.

Crockett was there on May 18th, 1980, when the mountain blew it's top and he continued to film as he witnessed what he called "Hell on Earth."

On that Sunday morning, Crockett arrived to photograph a restless mountain that sill maintained its pristine, snow-capped peak.

"I really don't know how to describe it. It was just a feeling that something was going to happen," Crockett said.

At 8:32 a.m., the side of the mountain collapsed and the massive eruption began.

"I knew I had to get out of there. I started down the valley, looked in my rearview mirror and there was just a wall of debris," Crockett said. "The whole valley was just disappearing behind me."

As Crockett tried to drive away, the road in front of him washed out. He was stuck.

"I just jumped out of my car and grabbed my film camera," Crockett said. He pointed the camera toward St. Helens and captured video of the massive ash plume moving overhead.

"I opened the (car) door and the alarm started going off, but it was kind of the least of my concerns at that point," he joked while recounting the event.

As Crockett continued to film, debris began to flow around him as the ash cloud from St. Helens rose thousands of feet into the air.

"I had this huge cloud of material, lightning and blue and purple," he recalls. "I had to get away from that."

He began walking uphill, through the steaming mud and ash cloud. He turned on the camera and started to talk as ash turned everything around him to black.

"Dear God, whoever finds this," he says as only a sliver of light is visible. "You can't see this, I'm sure it's too dark, but I left the car behind. As you can tell probably from this picture, I'm walking towards the only light I can see at the top of a ridge."

He maintains a soft voice, but you can sense his desperation as he describes the scene around him while filming.

"I can hear the mountain behind be rumbling. There's an enormous mud and water slide that came down and washed out the road."

"I never really thought I'd believe this or say this, but at this moment I honest to God believe I'm dead."

Crockett continues to narrate as the last bit of light disappears. "I can feel the ash now in my eyes. It's getting very hard to breath. I'm having trouble talking."

"This is Hell on Earth I'm walking through."

As you hear him gasp for air between steps, his mood quickly changes. "I've got the wrong attitude here. This will be something to tell my grandchildren about," he says with a laugh.

As the breeze began to blow away some of the ash, Crockett was able to see several feet in front of him. He stopped to take a photograph of himself smiling amidst the grey devastation.

"I think you can tell from the expression on my face I thought then maybe I was going to get out," he said recalling the day.

"When I finally realized I had made it and was going to live, I just started laughing and screaming out loud. I was just yelling at the mountain."

St. Helens would claim many lives that day. But not Dave Crockett.

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