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MIAMI(CBSMiami) — A 53-year-old veteran pilot who along with his wife survived a crash of their small plane Sunday in the Everglades says he is “grateful to be alive.”

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With his wife Sonia and daughter Monika at his bedside at Jackson Memorial Hospital,
Ken McKenzie told CBS4’s Peter D’Oench, “I am a little light headed but I am grateful to be here. This was fairly traumatic. The best way to sum it us is I am grateful to be alive.”

McKenzie and his wife left Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport just before 11 a.m. on Sunday and they were en route to Lynchburg, Virginia to see Monika at her college. Suddenly, their Lancair LNC4 plane developed an oil pressure problem and the engine quit.

McKenzie was able to make a hard landing on a levee just west of the Sawgrass Expressway before the plane exploded in flames.

“It happened really quickly,” said McKenzie. Sometimes there is a disorientation in which time slows down. This time it didn’t slow down. It moved really fast. I was surprised. I didn’t expect the plane to catch fire. I was surprised that there were flames and the aircraft was really really warm.”

He said, “I opened the door and jumped out. Everything was engulfed in flames. I turned around and saw Sonia trying to get out of her seatbelt. I grabbed a hold of her.”

McKenzie, who is a Senior Vice President for Airbus and a former Chief Operating Officer for Spirit Airlines, has a lot of experience. He flew for 14 years for the Canadian Armed Forces.

“With the time I spent with the Air Force, I did a lot of time with jet aircraft and learned how to get out of an aircraft on the ground,” he said. “You learn that you only have a matter of seconds to get out when it catches on fire. I also wasn’t wearing a flight suit. I was wear a shirt and shorts.”

“I think it was quite miraculous,” he said. “We had a number of choices on where we could land. We chose a location where there would be the least amount of harm.”

McKenzie and his wife have been married for 29 years. He bought the plane just a few months ago. He and his wife are deeply religious.

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He and his wife spoke about their faith on Tuesday.

“Having moments like this tends to bring life into perspective,” he said. “I look at how this all could have gone much worse than it did.”

“We do have a great deal of faith and there is some plan for our lives and the direction we are going in,” he said. “In this case we get to celebrate another birthday which is a nice thing to do.”

McKenzie celebrated his 53rd birthday on Monday inside his hospital room that  was decorated with birthday balloons.

His wife Sonia said, “He’s great. He’s working hard in his therapy and is trying to recover. He wants to get back to his regular life. We celebrated his birthday yesterday here in his room and yes it was a great birthday.”

His daughter Monika, who wants to be a TV sports reporter, shed tears as she spoke about her father.

“The first thing that comes to mind is just seeing him doing interviews. He’s doing it because he knows my love of broadcasting. Lying in his bed he is doing this for me as he always does stuff for others,” she said.

Dr. Carl Schulman, a professor of surgery at the Jackson Memorial Burn Center, told D’Oench, “He’s doing well, all things considered. He has 2nd degree burns over 6 to 8 per cent of his body. Pain control is a big deal. There is horrible pain with this injury and he requires a lot of medication to control the pain while managing the wound care.”

“I’d say he is lucky to not have more severe burns as a result of this accident,” he said.

Ken McKenzie said he plans to keep flying and his wife Sonia is still planning to get her pilot’s license.

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Dr. Schulman said McKenzie will remain at Jackson Memorial Hospital anywhere from two days to two more weeks.

Peter D'Oench