Richard de Crespigny, Qantas QF32 pilot: The five places that changed my life


My best childhood memories are in the country. My parents owned a three-hectare farm (the "Ponderosa") on the side of the 600-square-kilometre Mount Disappointment State Forest, where we used heavy equipment to clear-maintain land, build structures and ride motorcycles. I'd leave the cabin at nine in the morning with my brothers to ride the bikes into the forest and return often after dark. We had to learn how to ride, read maps, maintain and repair our bikes then recover from the many accidents. I hold the greatest respect for my father who let his young sons take risks, assume responsibility, build knowledge and independence and learn to fail well – many of the elements of resilience I list in my new book, FLY!


When I was 24 years old, I completed an aerospace medicine course at Brooks Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. At the end of the course I drove from Texas through the southern states to Alabama. I'll never forget New Orleans, Pensacola and especially the friendliness and hospitality of the American people along the coast who all welcomed me into their homes. Today I still try to reciprocate the friendliness the Americans extended to me.


While flying helicopters in a peacekeeping force, an engine event required we force land in the middle of the land-mine-laden sandy desert and radio for help. Shortly afterwards, I'll never forget the sight of a sole Bedouin trailing a camel, both slowly emerging from a desert mirage heading towards us. It was like the famous scene at Ali's Well from the movie Lawrence of Arabia. Ten minutes later, he stopped beside our helicopter, lit a small fire then made us a cup of strong sugary coffee. We communicated without a word of English. That event changed my perceptions and expectations of people of other cultures.


I have never forgotten the beauty and appeal of the strong and diverse primary-coloured houses in the Boca district. They proved to me and brought into my life the appeal for colour at every scale in our lives.


When Coral and I were getting to know each other, I'll never forget visiting her in Norway, and our train trip on the Flam Railway, from Oslo over the mountains to the cogged track down into Sognefjord. When we woke up we could see the lead locomotive snaking ahead with its snow blade carving the deep snow into a billowing and trailing snow storm. That's one of the most pristine and beautiful sights I have ever seen.

FLY! Life Lessons from the Cockpit of QF32 by Richard de Crespigny is out now. De Crespigny is currently touring Australia – see for dates.

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