Pilots recall eruption of Mount St. Helens


Roger and Florene Stenbock captured the eruption of Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980

The eruption of Mount St. Helens, May 18, 1980. (Courtesy of Roger Stenbock)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The eruption of Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980 dramatically altered thousands of acres of landscape. But it also left an indelible mark on the memories of those who call the Pacific Northwest home. 

KOIN 6 News Chief Meteorologist Natasha Stenbock was too young to remember the eruption. But her aunt and uncle will never forget where they were when a magnitude 5.1 earthquake triggered an unprecedented landslide, followed by a massive hydrothermal blast, ash plumes and pyroclastic flows.

Roger and Florene Stenbock are both pilots and documented the historic event as it unfolded from the air.

“I, for some reason, turned on TV that morning and it showed that the mountain was blowing and Roger was mowing the lawn,” Florence recalled. “So I ran out and told him it was going off. And so we ran in, got a camera and just went as fast as we could to go get in the plane and get outta here.” 

Roger Stenbock’s plane flown over Mount St. Helens on the day it erupted. (Courtesy of Roger Stenbock)

Just a month before the eruption, Roger and Florene took images on Super 8 film of Mount St. Helens sputtering. One of the things that sticks out in Florene’s mind from the weeks leading up to the mountain’s eruption was the smell of sulfur. 

“It smelled so bad,” she said. “Rotten egg smell was so bad.”

Natasha has vague memories of being in an airplane with her aunt and uncle after the eruption. But Roger and Florene remember everything in sharp detail. 

“It was incredible to see all those trees down—the whole forest range,” said Roger. “Afterwards, we went up there again and took a look at it. It was just amazing how powerful that blast was.”  

Forty years have passed since the couple saw the eruption unfold from a bird’s eye view but Roger said the time has flown. 

“I’m surprised that’s 40 years,” he said. “Actually it only seems like a few years ago but it’s 40 years.” 

The eruption of Mount St. Helens, May 18, 1980. (Courtesy of Roger Stenbock)

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