David Alexander Johnston
(December 18, 1949 –
May 18, 1980) was a
volcanologist with the United States Geological
Survey (USGS) until 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
. He was the first to report the eruption,
transmitting the famous message "Vancouver! Vancouver! This is
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.
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.
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
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
In 1997, the area known as Coldwater Ridge was renamed after him.
ridge is located the Johnston Ridge Observatory, a visitor center
and observation post, part of the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic