Years After Plane Crash, Survivor Recalls Father

Norm Ollestad and his 8-year-old son, Noah, have been chasing waves for years. It's Norm's way of passing on the lessons of his father.

"There's really good waves out," said the dad, now 41, on one recent trip to the California coast.

"Yesterday I got this big old tube. The first time I wiped out," his son enthused.

Norm rode his first wave before he could walk, and he skied at 3 years old. His father, Norman Ollestad Sr., was determined to push him to his limits.

VIDEO: Norman Ollesta relays lessons in "Crazy for the Storm: A Memoir of Survival."

"I wanted to be playing, just like my son," Norm said. "He just wants to play. I just wanted to play."

Norm wasn't always on board for his father's challenging adventures.

"You know, I wanted to play with kids. So, all these times I was off skiing, I was always thinking, 'God, I -- there's a birthday party this weekend. Or I could just be hanging out watching TV with my buddies. You know, riding a bike.' All these simple things. My dad could not understand that. ... He wanted me to live life."

Watch the full story tonight on "Nightline" at 11:35 p.m. ET.

By the time Norm was 11 he was a successful ski racer. But soon his life would take an unexpected, and tragic, turn. He recounts the episode -- and the lessons of his father -- in a new book, "Crazy for the Storm: A Memoir of Survival."

On Feb. 19, 1979, Norm's father chartered a small plane to fly over the San Gabriel Mountains to Big Bear, where Norm was to receive an award from the Junior U.S. Ski Team. With Norm and his dad were the pilot and his dad's girlfriend, Sandra Cressman.

"A few minutes into the flight, maybe 10 or 15 minutes into the flight, we hit the storm," Norm recalled.

"And it was -- all the windows were gray. You couldn't tell up or down, left or right. And, pretty soon, a limb flashed by the window. And I thought, 'Well, it's a trick of light, something. It's funny. 'Cause the limbs aren't up in -- in the sky.' And then maybe a few seconds after that, another one. And then I knew that we were about to crash. And I curled up my body. I yelled, 'Watch out.' And I curled up my body. And there's a couple thuds. Went right through my spine. And then the next thing I knew I woke up and the plane was torn apart."

Norm was knocked out for awhile. When he woke up he saw the plane was torn apart, hanging over an ice chute.

"I yelled for [my dad], instinctually," he said. "'Dad, dad, I can't breathe.' No response. You know, it was some part of me just thought, 'Oh, he's knocked out. And I'm not strong enough to wake him up.' And I just couldn't really conceive of the fact that he was dead."

The pilot and Norm's father, 43 at the time, both perished in the crash. The only other survivor, Cressman, was injured and panicked. There was nobody to take charge but 11-year-old Norm.

"I told Sandra we have to go," he said. "'Cause the storm was getting worse. It was getting colder. And I sensed, eventually it's gonna get dark. And I don't want to be up here in the dark. 'Cause we're not gonna make it through the night. And she didn't want to go. But I -- I insisted that we go."

Norm had to support Cressman, who could barely walk. They were climbing down a steep and icy slope when she slipped and fell into an ice chute and was killed.

"Now, I'm by myself. ... Just me. I did have something that came across me, that I just pushed away immediately. Which was, 'OK, now I don't have an adult weighing down on me. And trying to manage her and myself.'"

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...