Paul Oas got hooked on flying more than 30 years ago.
"I'll take any excuse to fly some place," said the 79-year old Del Mar resident.
That's why it wasn't unusual for him to rent a small plane at Gillespie Field to see a sick friend in Ramona.
What was supposed to be a routine trip up north, turned into a near death experience for the trauma therapist.
"I wasn't more than a few feet off the ground and all of sudden the canopy opens,"said Oas.
For the next five minutes, Oas would lean on his long experience as a pilot to help guide him back to safety. Holding on to the canopy with his left hand and steering the plane with his right hand, Oas circled back to Gillespie Field.
"I told the tower I had an emergency and I needed the nearest runway,"Oas said Thursday.
With the open canopy, the plane reacted like a roller coaster. "Going up and down, I lost more altitude than I wanted to,"Oas said. "By the time I got to the runway I was lower."
The plane was too low and the landing gear clipped some trolley lines just short of the fence that surrounds Gillespie Field.
The plane immediately dove nose first into a Santee street, eventually flipping onto its back.
Oas believes the wires may have saved his life because they slowed the crippled plane down dramatically before hitting the ground.
But there was a big problem. Oas was trapped inside the plane and his left arm was caught between the canopy and the fuselage, squeezing his arm.
"It shut off the blood supply and the nerves so I can't lift my hand now,"Oas said.
Then Oas noticed a stream of gas coming from the plane near the trolley wires. "So they (firefighters) didn't want me or anybody else to touch the ground or anything else,"Oas said.
After nearly a half an hour, rescuers were finally able to free Oas. "I call them my angels," he said.
Oas also survived skin cancer and mercury poisoning in his lifetime.
"I'm here for a purpose,"said Oas.
He also suffered cracked ribs in the plane crash but said he will make a full recovery and plans to fly again.
Oas doesn't know why the canopy opened and said he remembers latching it shut.
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