Forty years ago on February 19, 1979, a small plane carrying young Norman Ollestad (11), his father Norman Ollestad, Sr (43), his father's girlfriend Sandra Cressman (30), and pilot Rob Arnold (27) crashed into the side of a rugged 8,600 foot mountain in a blizzard.
The story of young Norman's harrowing journey down from the peak alone after the deadly crash is told by Norman thirty years later in his 2009 memoir Crazy for the Storm, interspersed with his memories of his relationship with his father and the lessons his father taught him growing up which helped the 11-year old survive.
Here is a link to a blog post I wrote in 2015 about this remarkable book and Norman's gripping account of his childhood and adolescence and that terrible day in February of 1979. Entitled "Crazy for the Storm, and the inner connection to the Infinite," the post examines some of the terrain maps of the site of young Norman's ordeal, as well as touching on some of the other aspects of the story which are extremely noteworthy and turned out to have been essential to Norman's survival that day.
In particular (and those who have not read the book itself may want to stop and do so before reading further), there were several "synchronicities" which enabled the 11-year-old to be found prior to nightfall after he made his way down off the rugged mountain during the blizzard.
A young mother named Pat Chapman was awakened on the morning of the crash by what she describes as a loud thud. "Her first thought was that it sounded like a plane crashing," she explained (263). She also heard a strange beeping sound and a coyote who wouldn't stop howling. The text continues:
Later that morning, nagged by a remote yet unshakable feeling that something bad had happened on the mountain, she led her two sons on a miserable hike to the meadow. They called out toward Ontario Peak, above the crown of rock, into the long apron that she called Gooseberry Canyon. Although the canyon was several thousand feet away, their voices echoed off the canyon walls. The wind and heavy fog buffered their voices some that day. When no one answered, she figured that her hunch was wrong. 263.
As it turns out, young Norman was trying to make his way towards this meadow, which he thought he had seen from the steep cliffs near the top of the mountain, and towards which he steered after he made his way down through the terrifying ice-chutes and funnels formed by the rock faces of the mountainside below the crash site.
When he finally did make it to the meadow, it was only because he saw Pat's bootprints in the snow and followed them that he was able to trace his way through the forested areas surrounding the meadow back to a dirt road where he was eventually found by another person who followed a hunch, a teenaged boy named Glenn Farmer.
In addition to these "coincidences," which enabled the injured 11-year old to be found after his hours-long ordeal on the mountainside, Norman later returned to the mountain twenty-seven years later (during the warmer months this time) and was surprised to discover that there was no way to see the meadow at all from the part of the mountain that he had traversed -- it was hidden by another ridgeline the entire way!
And yet, if he had not navigated towards that meadow, and then followed the bootprints left in the snow by Pat Chapman and her two children, young Norman Ollestad might not have found anyone to help him in that remote location. Writing his book nearly thirty years later, he considers this thought, and the perplexing fact that based on the unmistakable physical layout of the terrain, he could not have actually seen the meadow at any point as he made his way down off the side of Ontario Peak:
And even in the face of insurmountable contradictory evidence I still have a vivid memory of heading toward that meadow, compelled to reach it, believing that it would guide me to safety.
Bears and wolves navigate wilderness by instinct, and migratory birds are guided by an internal compass, so maybe the notion that I had to see the meadow in order for me to perceive it is an artificial concept.
Maybe I sensed a place where I could rest from the steep ice and broken terrain -- a place where other humans like Pat were compelled to go -- just as a wolf or bear can sense such places. Maybe the footprints of Pat and her boys, those human markings, called to me, and because I was cut off from civilization I was able to access my animal instinct and hang on to life. 267.
This revelation, and Norman's reflections upon it almost thirty years later, are among the most important lessons from an entire book filled with insights of all sorts about life in general (and in modern society in particular), in my opinion.
The fact is that some part of us, which we might call "the subconscious" but which appears to stretch even beyond what is usually allowed by that term, appears to have access to information of tremendous importance, and to which we are usually completely unaware. Sometimes, such as in life-threatening situations like the one 11-year-old Norman Ollestad faced that day on February 19, 1979, that information makes itself known to our conscious mind.
As the book also notes, when Pat Chapman told the sheriff's deputy later that day about thinking that she had heard a plane crash (the thudding sound that woke her up that morning, and which later caused her to hike out to the meadow with her children, on a "hunch"), the sheriff's deputy told her that it was impossible for her to have heard the crash, due to the distance from her house. It must have been the snowplow she had heard, they said (263 -264).
As Norman Ollestad notes in his own reflections on this information, the animals of the natural kingdom appear to have access to this kind of awareness, which goes beyond what can be explained by the five physical senses alone, and which is usually dismissed as "instinct." We ourselves are usually cut off from that awareness which is retained among the animal kingdom -- cut off by the complex entanglements of human society (the complexity of which, and the trauma with which these entanglements are imposed upon us as we grow up in the modern world, are depicted in graphic detail during the other parts of Norman Ollestad's powerful memoir).
In a sense, we are cut off from a very important part of ourselves by this process (necessary as it is in order to function in human society). I am convinced that healing this division, and becoming re-integrated with that part of ourselves from which we have been severed, is a central part of the message of the world's ancient myths, and of ancient practices such as meditation. Previous posts dealing with this question are numerous, and include:
(among many others).
Note that in one of the above-linked blog posts, there is an embedded video entitled "Greatest dad saves EVER!!!" in which some amazing rescues, primarily of infants or very young children, by dads are caught on film. One of these, fairly early in the video beginning at about the 0:06 second-mark in the clip, involves a dad who actually appears to be asleep when his hand suddenly shoots out to catch an infant about to fall head-first off a couch -- an infant the "dad" was not even looking at when his arm extends seemingly on its own to save the baby from potential disaster.
These types of incidents, which are barely explainable by our strictly "materialist" conventional paradigm, even with the vague catch-all phrase "instinct," indicate that some part of ourselves (our subconscious, which is a useful term as long as we realize that our subconscious appears to be tapped into a much wider field of awareness than is usually admitted by conventional science) has a level of awareness or sensitivity that goes beyond anything that can be explained by the five physical senses. In the case of Pat Chapman (who was awakened by the "sound" of a crash that was seemingly much too far away for her to have heard it from her location) and the meadow "seen" by young Norman as he made his way down off the mountain during his life-or-death ordeal, it appears that the subconscious (or whatever term we want to use) can in fact be aware of information at distances greater than what is possible for our physical senses.
These life-saving aspects of the historical facts surrounding Norman Ollestad's survival on that terrible day of February 19, 1979 are reinforced by many other incidents in which "ordinary" people had experiences or premonitions that are equally difficult or impossible to explain under the conventional paradigm, the accepted paradigm which ignores or dismisses them as "coincidence" or "superstition" or some kind of psychological projection.
I believe these are extremely important subjects to contemplate.
I highly recommend reading Norman Ollestad's remarkable memoir Crazy for the Storm, about the plane crash forty years ago but also about so much more. We should be grateful for his willingness to share such a personal story.
In a way, it can be seen as another one of the "greatest dad saves EVER."