On February 19, 1979, eleven year-old Norman Ollestad was a passenger in privately chartered Cessna aircraft. He was joined by his father Norman and his father’s girlfriend Sandra. The flight was supposed to be a routine trip but weather conditions and pilot error resulted in a series of events that climaxed with the crash of the plane in the San Gabriel mountains in Northern Los Angeles County, California. Miraculously, he was able to descend the mountain and eventually encountered a family living in the area who alerted authorities that a survivor of the crash had been found. Suddenly without his father, young Norman is forced to keep going in life without the words, wisdom and encouragement of the man he called Dad. In 2006, he began to write this book, his life story and his memories of his father while growing up in Malibu, California.
The book is not so much an autobiography in the traditional sense. In fact, Ollestad does not go into the story of his birth, all of his schooling, etc. When the book opens, he is already age eleven and like many of his peers, he possesses a passion for skateboarding. His father however, has more plans in store for him and teaches him the skills necessary for becoming a seasoned skier and surfer. And in between events, his father gives him small doses of wisdom that have remained with him throughout his life. It is clearly obvious that he adored his father and was proud that he not only had joined the FBI but the resigned a wrote a book about it titled Inside the FBI, published in 1967. Naturally, following the plane crash rumors surfaced about Hoover wanting revenge for the book but no evidence of foul play was found. The accident occurred for other reasons which are revealed in the book.
Norman’s story is pretty straightforward and nothing in it stands out at first. That all changes when Mexico becomes the next destination for father and son. Norman’s grandparents need a new washing machine so his Dad informs him that they will take the machine to Puerto Vallarta on their own and deliver it. The anecdotes from their journey are some of the deepest moments in the book, next to Ollestad’s descriptions of the crash-site and the fatalities that occurred. In the epilogue, Norman tells his son Noah that he could never do the things with him that he did with his grandfather because it would illegal. Most parents would never consider such a trip for their eleven year-old child but as we see in the book, the Ollestads did things differently, never intending to conform to anything or anyone and always with courage. This helps explain Norman’s rebellious streak that intensified after his father’s death.
Prior to reading the book, I did not have any expectations for it and I was not aware of Ollestad’s story beforehand. I do not know what some readers will expect in the book, but it is not simply a memoir about the crash. In fact, the chapters are divided between the crash and his childhood. It reminds me of the flashback to young Vito Corleone in The Godfather Part II. Some readers may find it confusing but personally, I thought it added a uniqueness to the book. It is critical to pay close attention but the flashbacks set the stage for the crash and events that follow. By some miracle, he survived the crash which surely could have killed everyone on board. Regaining his composure, he finds the courage to make his way down the mountain with a will to live. This drive and determination, was instilled in him by his father as we see in the flashbacks in which young Norman is perfecting his crafts and absorbing his father’s words. And his messages to his son Noah show that Norman learned from his father many things that were great and also some things that need to be changed with the next generation of Ollestads.
I am fortunate to have my father in my life. He is in his mid-sixties and keeps moving forward. He does not believe in sitting still and follows the mantra that you should never let any grass grow under your feet. As I read Ollestad’s book, I repeatedly thought of the importance of a strong bond between father and son. As Tupac Shakur once said, you need a man to teach you how to be a man. I could not have said it better myself. And one day if I am fortunate to have a son of my own, I will teach him how to be a man so that the lessons I have learned can be pass down through him and to future generations. Wisdom is the gift that keeps on giving.
The book is less than three-hundred pages in length so for some it would be considered a short read. I read through it quickly for the story flows very well but I think that more information about his life after the crash through adulthood would have given the book more substance. Nevertheless, it is a nice read full of emotion and the values we aim to have in our lives. And after you have finished the book, you too might be crazy for the storm.