New Horizons Writers’ Group

A Mount St. Helens Mis-Adventure

Bob Hirt

We were just embarking on a trip toward the Mount St. Helens, Washington, volcanic site after many years of hearing stories about how very tragic that fateful day, May 18, 1980, was. We had also read about how an old man, a Mr. Harry Truman (not the deceased president of the United States) was ordered to vacate his home immediately, along with his cats. Even though having been warned that to remain on the premises would likely result in his certain death, Mr. Truman stubbornly refused to leave. His lodge was totally destroyed in the blast and was washed away by churning volcanic mud. He died on the mountain along with his 16 cats. Neither his body nor the bodies of any of his cats were ever recovered.

Anyway, my wife and I, as well as my sister and her husband were heading eastward from Seattle on Route I-90 on a day-trip to fully experience the devastation wreaked upon that immediate area as well as on much of Washington State by this cataclysmic event.

We had been travelling in the car for barely 40 minutes when we observed a car coming erratically from the opposing lane at a high rate of speed. Something wasn’t right; Steve, my bother-in-law, eyed the car cautiously, for it seemed to be almost on the highway’s center line. Sure enough, it then crossed the line and was now coming into our lane. He slowed the car down drastically as the wayward car was now crossing the highway in front of us. The driver never slowed the vehicle down and it continued on, passing us on our right, going off the pavement and down a steep, very long embankment. We pulled off the road, stopped and quickly exited the vehicle. We feared for the lives of the car’s occupants. It was now almost half mile away in a flat grassy field below us and still travelling at a high rate of speed. Then, in the distance we saw the vehicle suddenly hit the edge of an elevated dirt road and instantly become airborne. While in the air it flipped over and came down onto its roof. By now, the four of us, totally breathless from running, approached it and heard the screams of the occupants. There were three of them, the driver, his wife and a young man in the rear seat. All were hanging upside down still fastened by their seatbelts. We immediately called 911 and the sheriff’s office and requested an ambulance. We were able to quickly open the doors. The lady, presumably the boy’s mother, was screaming uncontrollably. We unbuckled them from their seatbelts and carefully helped them out of the wreck. No one appeared seriously injured but blood was coming from the top of the young man’s head. My sister, a registered nurse, took charge, inquired about areas of pain, or possible broken limbs and quickly assessed the general external health of the three people. The parents of the young man came out of the ordeal with only a few small scrapes. Then, upon questioning them it was established that all three of the occupants had fallen asleep after many hours of non-stop driving. Their Buick rental car was new with only a few hundred miles on the odometer. The windshield had popped out, but thankfully, the doors had remained closed. The sheriff and an ambulance arrived shortly and the attendants took over.

After some detailed questioning we were allowed to leave and to continue on our travels. We returned to our car, got back on the road, a bit less enthusiastic for the emotional trauma we had endured, but happy that no one had died in the mishap. Our trip to Mount. St. Helens was a wonderful experience, dampened somewhat by what could very well have been a family’s tragedy save for the Grace of God and three fastened seatbelts!