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I tried that, however the door panel is impossible to remove without breaking when the door is closed, and a new door panel would be that much anyway....I would love to make this a DIY project if at all possible though

DO NOT RIP OFF THE INTERIOR DOOR PANEL. I have the same issue and read somewhere (don't recall where I read it) once you get the panel off, you can slide it towards the rear of the car and that should get you just enough room to do what you have to do to solve the problem. Make sure the lock or the stay closed thingy it's wire is connected, pull on the cable that should do the trick.
DO NOT
 

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The panel that is upholstered where your elbow sits can be removed followed by the removal of the airbag that is right under that panel generally speaking you will damage the damaged tabs that hold this panel in place but it can be put back with a little ingenuity. Opening the door can be accomplished with a little tool made out of wire with a hockey stick on end. This tool can be placed in a slot at the bottom of the locking mechanism that you can feel through the hole that you have created by removing the airbag unit. Removing the airbag unit can be a dicey Thang. I disconnected the battery prior to removing it. I made a YouTube video demonstrating the use of this homemade small tool to open the door latch mechanism.
 

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I posted this on youtube under the name marshoemaker. E39 door wont open from inside or outside. I fought with my door latch for hours before I figured this out. There is no way to get the inner door facing off with the door closed.
 

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Sometimes if you call the BMW guys and ask your question they will help you. BMW is about their customers and the cars. They have always helped me for no cost. Just good car people. Never hurts to ask.
 
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