Norman Ollestad was just 11 years old on February 19, 1979, when the chartered Cessna he, his father, and his fatherís girlfriend, Sandra, crashed into the 8,693-foot Ontario Peak in the San Bernadino mountain range. The book Crazy for the Storm is Normanís account of his life up until the moment of the crash, his efforts at surviving on the snowy mountainside, and the aftermath of the accident. Sadly, his father, who called Norman ďBoy WonderĒ because of his sonís accomplishments at skiing, hockey, and surfing, perished in the wreckage; Sandra died while Norman attempted to help her down the mountain. Crazy for the Storm is both an excellent account of survival despite the freezing weather and being wrecked on a rugged icy mountain, and itís a heartwarming tale of a sonís admiration and love for his father.
The very first chapter details the Cessna 172ís crash into Ontario Peak. They were on their way to an awards ceremony in Big Bear because Norman had ďwon the Southern California Slalom Skiing Championship the day before,Ē and they had to leave and drive ďback to Sant Monica for my hockey game.Ē They had to go back to Big Bear, according to the author, ďso that I could collect my trophy and train with the ski team.Ē But the pilot hadnít filed a flight plan, was trying to navigate visually, and didnít know a storm was brewing. The plane flew off course, and thatís when Normanís life changed forever:
We slammed into Ontario Peak, 8,693 feet high. The plane broke apart, flinging
chunks of debris across the rugged north face and hurling our bodies into an icy chute.
The author alternates writing about what he did next to try to save himself, his father, and Sandra (the pilot died from the impact) with what led up to the crash. He writes about the time he spent with his father, his mother, and his motherís boyfriend Nick. For instance, the second chapter begins an account of going with his dad (also named Norman) down to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, to deliver a washing machine to the boyís grandparents, who had retired there. They took it by truck and had planned to surf on their way - at least, that was what Normanís father wanted them to do, but Norman dreaded it, thinking the waves would be too big and it would be too dangerous.
We were sprawled amongst the wreckage. Our bodies teetered on the 45-degree
pitch threatening to plunge us into an unknown freefall. Exposed to freezing snow and wind, we dangled 250 feet from the top - the distance between life and death.
On their journey, they were stopped at various checkpoints, and a ďtaxĒ was demanded of them by armed soldiers. At one of the checkpoints, when they were being hassled too much, Normanís father ran the barricade and they sped off with the soldiers firing at them. A storm pounded down, and when they took off of the main road onto a dirt road the author spotted to evade potential pursuers, they got stuck in deep mud in the middle of the jungle. Always resourceful, they took their surfboards with them and hiked through knee-deep mud to both try to find help and surf in the ocean. They got in plenty of surfing and found villagers who fed them, put them up for the night, and located a mechanic to got them unstuck and on their way again.
Norman Sr. pushed his son to succeed, sometimes making him do things he didnít always want to do at the time. He did so not to live vicariously through his son but rather to teach him valuable life lessons: to never quit, and to always make the best out of whatever situation he might be in. Normanís father had been a child actor in the original black-and-white movie Cheaper by the Dozen, earned money to put himself through college by showing surfing films, and been a member of the FBI for a year until he became disillusioned, quit, and wrote an expose about Hoover and his experiences with the agency. After the fact, Norman realized that his father was right - that it was a privilege to get to experience surfing and skiing, to live life to its fullest, though at the time he had to get up early in the morning and give up eating junk food to train, often feeling that his father was pushing him too much.
Later, though, and in his dedication to Crazy for the Storm, Norman credited his fatherís indomitable spirit and the spiritual feeling one can get with catching the perfect wave with saving his life. During the trip to Mexico, riding a tunnel in a wave for the first time ever, Norman felt the kind of joyous high his father had always told him about. All the training, while arduous, paid off for him in his ski races, hockey games, and surfing, and in his life in general. Iíd highly recommend Crazy for the Storm for anyone who likes excellent, well-written, Hemingway-esque memoirs of survival, touching stories of a childís love for his father, or just a darn fine read.