I had just finished the engine run-up and instrument check in a Cessna 172 and pulled up to the hold line for Gillespie Field's runway 27R at about 10:30 this morning, June 2. I switched to tower frequency to get clearance, but the airplane directly across from me beat me to it and taxied out. As soon as he lifted off, I heard, "Gillespie Tower, I have to return to the airport immediately, I have a canopy open."
We listened as the pilot in the troubled aircraft tried to call the tower to get clearance to return, and the tower trying to contact him. All we could hear was his open mic and wind. Then the squeal on the radio indicating two radios calling at once. A few seconds later, tower ordered the airport closed and all of us were told to change to the ground frequency and hold our positions.
The troubled pilot had attempted to make a 180-degree turn and return to the field and, as often happens in such circumstances, lost too much altitude in the turn and struck power lines at the east side of the field over Cuyamaca Street. The plane flipped upside down onto the street. El Cajon fire and airport authorities responded immediately. The pilot was extricated and taken by ambulance to a hospital.
The blocked communications we had heard on both frequencies were caused by ESL student pilots who were not paying attention to radio traffic and the emergency in progress. This has been an ongoing problem at Gillespie Field.