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The eruption of Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980 was also one of the most well documented volcanic eruptions in recorded history. It is also one of very few major volcanic eruptions ever to be recorded on film at the moment of eruption. Early that morning at around 3 a.m. local time, KOMO-TV news photographer Dave Crockett had left Seattle in a KOMO-TV news car bound for a lookout on the South Fork of the Toutle River where news crews had been stationed previously. At a campground 10 miles (16 km) away to the northeast, amateur photographer Gary Rosenquist as well as University of Washington graduate student Keith Ronnholm had been waiting. In the air directly above the volcano, geologists Keith and Dorothy Stoffel had chartered a Cessna aircraft from Yakima to do some photographic documentation of the summit bulge. To the west near the South Fork Toutle River, ham radio operators Ty and Mariana Kearney were stationed at a lookout point monitoring the activity for an emergency radio network.
At the moment of eruption, Gary Rosenquist was alerted to the volcano by a few members of his camping party and began firing off the first of a 24-frame sequence that clearly illustrated the landslide and beginning moments of the lateral blast and simultaneously doing so was Keith Ronnholm a few feet away. At the same time, Ty and Mariana Kearney were photographing it from the west side, as well as Keith and Dorothy Stoffel from the air. Arriving also at the moment of eruption was KOMO News photographer Dave Crockett. As the ash cloud loomed overhead and continued to spread out, a lahar coming down the South Fork Toutle River blocked his path of escape. He then got out of the car and began filming the eruption's ash column as well as the lightning and the lahars. As the cloud began darkening the sky he began a trek up a logging road and turned the camera on once again, this time narrating his video in what was recorded as a "death march." The video, of which 11 minutes is recorded in total darkness, was played out on newscasts worldwide.
Several other photographers perished during the blast. Reid Blackburn, photographer for The Columbian and monitor for the United States Geological Survey, was killed at his campsite, eight miles (13 km) from the volcano. He took several photos, but the film was destroyed by the pyroclastic flows. Robert Landsberg (spelled Landsburg in some accounts) succumbed to the eruption, but managed to secure his camera film; though damaged by the eruption, his photos—depicting the advancing pyroclastic surge—were processed and published in National Geographic magazine in 1981.