Dennis Steinbock of Klamath Falls spent two days pinned beneath the wreckage of a small plane in northern Mississippi and survived by drinking the rainwater from a lightning storm. - AP

'I don't see a lot of things as negative. I see them as a possibility.'

Dennis Steinbock shouted into the trees. "Help! Help! Help!" No one heard him.

He was pinned underneath his wrecked Zodiac aircraft, surrounded by shrubs and forest. It would be 54 hours before searchers found the missing Klamath Falls pilot whose small plane crashed in Mississippi.

In the last hours before his rescue, Steinbock battled dehydration, pain from broken bones, muscle trauma and one question: What would happen if searchers didn't find him?

"I was mentally preparing myself to die," he said.

Six months later, the only reminders of Steinbock's ordeal are tingling in his feet, shoulder pain and occasional phone calls from media outlets seeking interviews about his survival of the June crash that drew the attention of "Good Morning America" and other major networks.

Many called Steinbock a miracle plane crash survivor.

These days, the Klamath Falls high school history teacher sees a physical therapist and podiatrist to treat his legs, feet, shoulder and some back pain caused by broken ribs that have since healed.

Steinbock emerged from the near-death experience with a strong message about life.

"One of the things I learned is life is so great," he said. "I don't see a lot of things as negative. I see them as a possibility."

Things aren't a routine anymore, he said.

He plans to someday publish a book on lessons he's learned. The message will be about seizing opportunities in life, making a difference and seeing every life as important.

Life, Steinbock said, is more urgent now. He no longer wants to set plans aside. Activities such as teaching classes at Klamath Community College and visiting a lake in Nevada were once only future plans. They are now a reality. It's not someday.

"Now, it's now," he said.

Though he hasn't yet, Steinbock plans to fly again — probably next summer after he finds a new plane and recovers from injuries.

Steinbock had been a pilot for 18 years when the crash happened. An outdoorsman, he knew survival tactics that probably saved his life. He had taken a commercial flight to Alabama to pick up a home-built plane he was buying.

He planned to fly to a stop near Branson, Mo. He never made it. Over Mississippi, Steinbock's plane experienced engine trouble, although to this day, he doesn't know what caused it.

He saw a clearing, but didn't reach it in time. Instead, his plane did a nosedive down a tree trunk, and flipped on its top on the ground, pinning him underneath.

At first, Steinbock hung upside down in his seatbelt inside the Volkswagen Beetle-sized cabin. He could barely move, but he moved around until he was upright. He tried pushing the plane up. It didn't budge. He thought he might be near a residence, so he started yelling.

After a half hour of no response, he gave up. It was a Monday morning.

Steinbock then started thinking about survival. What did he need to stay alive? It was 88 degrees and humid, and he was starting to get thirsty.

Inside the plane, he found and drank a couple of bottles of water. That night, a thunderstorm pelted the aircraft, providing Steinbock with more water. He found Altoid containers inside the cabin and held them outside an opening in the plane, slurping up the rain.

When the rain stopped, Steinbock found other ways to get water. He discovered his seatbelts were soaked, so he slurped water from them. He tore up wet maps and sucked water, and chewed on leaves on the ground for their moisture.

When he tired, he nodded off a little, but most of his 54 hours were spent gathering water.

"The whole thing about this is positive thinking," he said. "I was thinking survival. I'm not thinking about family. I'm not thinking of eating," he added.

Two days after the crash, he heard planes flying overhead. Steinbock discovered after his rescue that the Civil Air Patrol detected an emergency signal from his aircraft, but could only trace it within a mile radius. They started scouring the forested area about 15 miles south of Oxford, Miss.

During the ordeal, Steinbock held out hope, but that day his confidence waned. He was exhausted, out of water and didn't know how much longer he could survive. He knew he was close to death.

The thought didn't worry him — he knew his family would be OK and his life was in order, he said.

Still, he began praying he would be rescued. A short time later, he heard planes coming closer. Then a helicopter came directly overhead. He tried using an Altoids container as a signal mirror.

"That's when hope came back that I was going to make it," he said.

Moments later ground rescuers approached. They used Jaws of Life to extricate him, placing him on a spine board.

He spent more than a week in a Memphis, Tenn., hospital being treated for his injuries. His son, Stephen Steinbock, drove to Memphis to pick him up. Steinbock couldn't fly in an airplane with a pressurized cabin because he had a punctured lung.

Support from family, including his son and siblings, helped Steinbock through the recovery process. His brother helped with paperwork, such as filing insurance claims and other matters related to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Other family members went shopping for him and visited him often in the weeks after the crash. The prayers of community members assisted in his recovery, he said.

In the months after the crash, he would run into people, who told him, "Do you know how many people in Klamath Falls are praying for you?"

Still, the greatest change came when Steinbock said he began grabbing hold of life, seizing opportunities he may have put off before the crash. For example, he became a speaker at career day at the Oregon Institute of Technology for eighth-grade students from area schools.

In his teaching, Steinbock noticed the importance of each life, including the underdogs, or students otherwise ignored.

"There are a lot of people out there who make a difference," he said. "But there are a lot of people who can and aren't. I said, 'Now I'm going to make a difference.' "

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