|David A. Johnston|
David A. Johnston, 13 hours before his death at the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens
December 18, 1949
Oak Lawn, Illinois
|Died||May 18, 1980 (aged 30)
Skamania County, Washington
|Cause of death||Killed by the volcanic eruption of Mount St. Helens|
David Alexander Johnston (December 18, 1949 – May 18, 1980) was a volcanologist with the United States Geological Survey (USGS); he was killed by the 1980 eruption of the Mount St. Helens volcano in Washington. He was killed while manning an observation post about 6 miles (10 km) from the volcano on the morning of May 18, 1980. He was the first to report the eruption, transmitting the famous message "Vancouver! Vancouver! This is it!" before being swept away by the lateral blast created by the collapse of the mountain's north flank. Ham radio operator Jerry Martin observed the lateral blast overtaking Johnston's camp. Though Johnston's remains have never been found, remnants of his USGS trailer were found by state highway workers in 1993.
Johnston was born in Oak Lawn, Illinois and studied geology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He completed his Ph.D. in 1978 at the University of Washington in Seattle, a study of the Mount Augustine volcano in Alaska before starting working with the USGS. After completing his Ph.D. Johnston progressed to study volatiles' involvement in volcanic activity at Mount Katmai, the site of a massive eruption in the early 20th century. Later in 1978 he joined the United States Geological Survey, where he monitored volcanic emission levels in the volcanic ranges of the Northwestern United States and Alaska. There he helped to strengthen the theory that eruptions can be predicted, to some degree, by changes in the makeup of volcanic gases.
Johnston was the only geologist with the USGS to correctly predict the nature of the eruption. The official USGS prediction was that the volcano would experience a conventional vertical column eruption, while Johnston (who had been doing extensive research on the volcano and the geologic forces at play within and around it) had proposed that the blast would be lateral and originate from the bulge which he had observed developing on the side of the mountain.
In 1997, the area known as Coldwater Ridge was renamed after him. On the ridge is located the Johnston Ridge Observatory, a visitor center and observation post, part of the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.