Bill Walton recalls flying into Mount St. Helens: 'We could feel the heat'

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Hall of Famer Bill Walton had a storied basketball career, but the stories he’s shared since retiring may be even better.

Walton joined Kenny Mayne and shared several of those anecdotes on Audacy’s Hey Mayne podcast this week, including the time he convinced a pilot to fly directly into Mount St. Helens after the volcano erupted.

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Hey Mayne
Episode 7 - Bill Walton
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Walton is a huge Grateful Dead fan and their song “Fire on the Mountain” came true during a 1980 concert in Portland.

“While they were playing ‘Fire on the Mountain,’ Mount St. Helens blew up and things were never the same again,” Walton said (50:59 in player above).

“We got up early the next morning and we raced out to Troutdale, right there at the mouth of the Columbia gorge,” he continued. “We went to the private airport there and I had my hotel bill in my hand and I was waving it and I was saying that we were scientists. We were scientists. We were ecologists. And we were insurance agents and we had to get up there and take atmospheric measurements of the volcanic eruption there.”

Despite not necessarily having the proper authorization, one of the guys took them up on the offer.

“So there was four or five of us and we get in this airplane – little single-engine plane, had all the windows open, and we fly right into the volcano.”

“I keep telling the guy to go lower,” Walton said. “I waved the paper – my hotel bill – in front of him. ‘This is our authorization! This is our scientific paper of duty here to measure this.’ And so we got down basically we could feel the heat coming up from this bumbling gurgling cauldron of fire and Earth.”

Well, the officials must’ve got wind of the low-flying airplane and they sent out some jets to corral the plane.

“They scrambled some air force jets to get us out of there. These jets, they come flying in right at us and the guys are on their radio just yelling ‘What are you guys doing?’ ‘These guys are scientists! They’re government scientists! They’re insurance agents trying to figure out the casualty problems here,’” Walton relayed. “‘Well you gotta get out of here right now!’”

“We turned around, went back to Troutdale airport as fast as we could. That guy touched down, we jumped out of the plane, ran and got in our cars and left. And they never got close to us, man. It was one of the greatest days ever.”