In 1980, I was a meteorologist for the Forest Service Avalanche Center and flew with a NBC crew days after the blast to document the destruction.
The blast from the Mount St. Helens eruption scorched the surrounding landscape for nearly 20 miles. The direct blast obliterated everything for a distance of eight miles. The shock wave toppled trees in the intermediate blast zone, and you could see burned trees that were left standing in the outer seared zone.
We flew up the Toutle River and saw the widespread damage from the flooding and the mud, but just beyond we slammed into the real impact of the eruption. There weren't even fallen trees, just barren slopes and geysers of steam and ash everywhere. It seemed like we were flying into hell, not somewhere in the Cascades.
The once tranquil Spirit Lake was transformed into a steaming cauldron filled with shattered trees. The weather lifted just enough for us to be some of the first to fly up to the edge of the new crater and look in.
Editor's note: Rich also flew on several military recovery missions, acting as an extra set of eyes for victims of the blast.