VALLEY CENTER, Calif. (KGTV) - The 12-year-old survivor of a plane crash in Valley Center is praising her uncle, the pilot who died in the crash.
A smiling photo of Raquel Contreras was taken moments before her uncle, Peter Bierle, a seasoned pilot, took her up in his single-engine, experimental aircraft on an early Sunday evening. They were above the home of her friend for a birthday flyover when it happened.
More than two weeks after the crash, Contreras spoke to us from her hospital room. She says some neighbors got an early warning.
"The plane hadn't even crashed, and they were getting ready because they heard engine failure," said Contreras.
A traumatized Contreras didn't want to talk about the crash, but her family says her uncle told her to, "Get down low and hold on."
Witnesses saw the plane dive toward the yard, away from buildings, before it crashed.
"I want to honor Uncle Peter. It's amazing what he did, and I wouldn't be here if he didn't land and crash like he did," said Contreras.
Bierle died at the scene. Dozens of neighbors rushed to the plane, burning fuel nearby.
"Just want to thank everyone on Palomar Vista Drive ... Amazing how everyone came together in the end," Contreras said.
Contreras was cut out of seat belt and rescued. That seat belt was a 4-point harness belt, courtesy of her Aunt Connie.
"Right before the flight, she put in a new seat belt and checked my buckle," says Contreras.
The last-minute addition may have saved her life. Raquel was hurt badly, with injuries to her eye and spine, and fractures to her skull, sternum, and hand.
Two surgeries later, a determined Contreras is now beginning her long road to recovery.
"We've just been taking steps slowly and steadily," she said.
A Gofundme campaign has been set up to help the family with expenses.
The NTSB has yet to release its initial findings on the crash.