No one likes to dwell on all the things that could possibly go wrong, but Kati Dimoff from Portland, Oregon got a taste of the world’s dangers when she stumbled across a camera containing scenes from a forgotten disaster. She was thrifting at a Goodwill when an old camera containing an undeveloped roll of film, quickly became her most prized discovery.
In Portland, a love of photography comes with the territory. Kati Dimoff counts herself as one of the many local photographers who snaps photos of the surrounding Cascadia region. Kati’s favorite hobby, however, requires even more patience than waiting for her film to process.
Kati frequents her local thrifts shops in search of old cameras with undeveloped photos. She tells The Oregonian: “The first roll of undeveloped film I ever found had a photo of the Portland International Raceway in maybe the ’70s or the ’80s. That inspired me to keep looking for old film in Goodwill cameras.”
One spring day in Portland, Kati stepped inside her favorite Goodwill and picked up an Argus C2 camera model, which hadn’t been in production for 75 years. The cartridge inside appeared to be aged. Kati rushed it over to a processing lab that specialized in developing old film, but they were missing something.
The lab didn’t have the proper machinery to develop the 40-year-old photos in color. Thankfully, they were able to process them in black-and-white, which was plenty for Kati. When she came to pick up the prints, the lab workers had to let her know how special her discovery was.
Despite a bit of damage here and there, the lab experts had done a fantastic job. Kati stared at the photos in awe. One of the photos was enough to ignite her search for the camera’s owner.
The photo showed what appeared to be a young couple standing in a yard with their baby, whom was being held by either its grandmother or great-grandmother. Kati turned to the media to help her identify the smiling relatives.
The Oregonian shared the story across the region. Kati wondered if the owners even remembered the camera, let alone the infamous scenes it contained. If she could find them, their reaction would surely be priceless. Two days later, her wish came true.
A man named Mel Purvis was scrolling through an article his buddy had sent him when he nearly fell off his chair. Not only did he recognize the figures in the photo — he was one of them! Mel got in touch with The Oregonian immediately and told them all the details.
The photo was taken in 1980. It depicted Mel, his wife, his grandmother, and his infant son Tristan all preparing to attend a football game. The photo was taken to capture his grandmother’s first time meeting her newborn grandson. Unfortunately, Mel had a bit of tragedy to share.
A year after the photo was taken, Mel’s grandmother passed away without the chance to see her grandson grow up. To make matters worse, the family had just lost Tristan in 2009 when he was just 30. The photo brought back bittersweet memories for Mel, who says the camera wasn’t even his.
It was Mel’s grandmother, Faye Gardner, who owned the Argus C2. The rest of the incredible photos had been taken by her. Mel didn’t know what had become of his grandmother’s belongings until now. Upon seeing the rest of the prints, Mel was able to identify the region and confirm the captured event.
At first, the photos seemed unassuming. One depicted a line-up of homes and buildings on a springtime day, much like the one when Kati came across Faye’s camera. There were a few clouds overhead, but the film damage made it difficult to notice any details.
The next photo was just as unremarkable as the last. It showed the Lewis and Clark Bridge, which connects Washington and Oregon. There was nothing too special about the shot, so why was Faye snapping away? It wasn’t until the next photo that her intentions were clear.
The same line-up of homes and buildings from a few photos back were present. Except now, it was clear that the sky wasn’t filling with clouds, but with smoke. When Kati first picked up the photos at the lab, the workers had left her a note asking, “Is this from the Mount St. Helens eruption?”
On the morning of May 18th, 1980, Mount St. Helens was rocked by a 4.0-magnitude earthquake. Experts were expecting the hit, but they only had three days to prepare before the quake rippled out, causing a mess of 4.0 tremors for days on end. Citizens were fixed on the mountain, which was beginning to grow.
Out of the side of the mountain, a massive bulge pushed its way through. The boiling magma beneath was searching for an escape route, and the land beneath the 450-foot bulge crumbled as the side of the mountain erupted. This was nothing like the school science fair volcanos you’re used to.
This sideways force, called a nuée ardente, pummeled everything in its 8-mile path. The burning gases flew through the air faster than the speed of their own sound. A shockwave the size of 352 football fields followed, causing Mount St. Helens to burst upwards in textbook fashion. Faye was frantically attempting to capture this moment.
The explosion, reminiscent of a nuclear blast, coated the skies of eight surrounding states. The resulting damages cost over $1 billion. America has yet to see an eruption as devastating, but with the mountain still active, there’s no telling what the future may bring. Kati remained puzzled about one peculiar detail.
In an email to Fox News, Kati admitted to her intrigue. “I was curious how it could be that anyone would shoot images of the eruption, which was such an iconic time here in the Pacific Northwest, and not run right out and get them developed.” Even without an answer, Kati knew one thing.
“Mount St. Helens is my favorite place. It feels sacred there. So, when I realized my found film had images of the eruption, it felt like it was meant to be.” Was it fate that drew Kati to the camera? No one can be certain, but strangely enough, another avid adventurer stumbled across a camera in nature that also had a spiritual connection.
While Kati discovered the rare footage after it was developed, Rich Aloha made his camera find while scuba diving in a popular natural attraction called Foster Falls. The treasure hunter did this sort of thing all the time, but on this particular underwater excursion, he made a shocking digital discovery that was even more valuable than the Mount St. Helens film.
And Rich had selected the falls specifically for the potential of recovering dropped objects. A part of South Cumberland State Park, the 60-foot waterfalls are a popular destination for swimmers looking to cool off and snap a few pics. And because the pools are so deep, visitors lose things all the time.
“I might be finding a drone, or an iPhone, maybe a GoPro,” Rich exclaimed at the beginning of his video. “And if I’m really lucky, I might even find some cash.” With that, he took the plunge into the murky depths.
Rich dove into the water near the fall. At first, the murky waters seemed to be devoid of any kind of treasure, but then Rich spotted something out of the corner of his eye.
There was a small black-and-gold bracelet lying there among the rocks. Rich took his new prize and placed it on his wrist before moving forward; there was more treasure to be found.
Next, Rich spotted a ring — maybe a wedding ring? — before diving even further. After locating a pair of sunglasses and a discarded turtle shell, he saw something much more valuable.
There, lying among the rocks at the bottom of the pool, was a camera. Excited, Rich snatched up the GoPro and returned to the surface, eager to see if there was any footage on it.
“We’ll review the footage and see if I can’t get that back to the rightful owners,” said Rich, closing out the video. “But this is definitely one for the books.”
As Rich left Foster Falls, he ran into a park ranger who shared some interesting information with him. It seemed a man named Richard Ragland had drowned there two years earlier. Rich’s heart sank.
Was there any connection to the items he found and Richard Ragland’s death? When he turned on the camera, he was dumbstruck. “I was going through the footage and sure enough, I just said ‘Oh my god, this is the guy,'” he recalled.
Slowly, Rich uncovered Richard Ragland’s backstory. He had grown up in Georgia and later served in the National Guard. Later, he found his calling as an actor. Fate intervened on a road trip with some friends in 2017.
Richard and his friends stopped at Foster Falls for a bit of exploring and when they came across the falls, they had to stop for a swim. That’s when Richard pulled out his camera and started filming.
The situation quickly got worse. Richard was getting pulled beneath the surface and struggling to breathe. One of his friends tried to pull him up out of the water, but it was too late.
They tried to revive Richard with CPR, but the effort was hopeless. Paramedics quickly showed up to take him to a nearby hospital, but once he had arrived, they pronounced him dead.
So, when Rich found the video of those final moments, he was heartbroken listening to some of Richard’s last words: “You start to not take your life for granted and not allow people to manage your life,” Richard said. “I didn’t want anybody to manage my life.”
Troubled, Rich made a bold choice: he located Richard’s parents to show them what he’d found. When they got the phone call, it must have brought some small comfort that they might finally have some answers into that unthinkable tragedy.
“The SD card was intact, all the footage was there. It was like an out of body experience,” said Richard’s mother. “What we’ve seen so far is Rich being Rich, living life to the fullest.”
Richard’s mother was also grateful that Rich had sought them out: “For him to go through the effort to do his research, make numerous phone calls – he didn’t give up until he got in touch with us and that means the world to us.”
Though it captured a tragedy, the footage of their son brought some closure to Richard’s parents. They weren’t sure if they wanted to watch it at first, but they knew revisiting the past was sometimes necessary to heal. The opportunity would’ve have been possible without Rich Aloha.