LOS ANGELES (AP) — Harrison Ford crash-landed his vintage plane Thursday after losing engine power, suffering serious but not life-threatening injuries as he used his extensive piloting experience to skillfully bring down the plane on a golf course and avoid nearby homes.
It was the latest and most serious in a series of crashes and close calls for the 72-year-old action-adventure A-lister, who like his “Star Wars” alter-ego Han Solo has a taste for aerial thrills. He was helped by golfers who saw the plane come down about a quarter-mile short of the runway at Santa Monica Municipal Airport and taken to a hospital conscious and breathing.
Ford’s publicist Ina Treciokas said in a statement that Ford had no other choice but to make an emergency landing. She said his injuries “are not life threatening, and he is expected to make a full recovery.”
Ford was about a half-mile west of the airport and flying at 3,000 feet when he told air traffic controllers that his engine failed, interim Santa Monica City Manager Elaine Polachek said in an email to city officials.
Ford’s plane “apparently hit a tree on the way down,” and in addition to a cut forehead Ford may have broken his leg, the email said.
The plane, a yellow 1942 Ryan Aeronautical ST3KR with stars on its wings, was upright and mostly intact after the crash. No one on the ground was hurt.
“I would say that this is an absolutely beautifully executed — what we would call — a forced or emergency landing, by an unbelievably well-trained pilot,” said Christian Fry of the Santa Monica Airport Association.
The airport’s single runway sits amid residential neighborhoods in the city of more than 90,000 on the Pacific Ocean. City leaders and many residents advocate closing the airport, citing noise and safety concerns. Other airplanes taking off or landing there have crashed into homes, and in September 2013 four people died when their small jet veered into a hangar and caught fire.
Ford, who keeps his plane at the airport, took off at 2 p.m. About 20 minutes later, he told the tower he had engine failure and was making an immediate return, according to a recording posted by the website LiveATC.net.
He came down on a fairway of Penmar golf course.
“Immediately you could see the engine started to sputter and just cut out, and he banked sharply to the left,” said Jeff Kuprycz, who was golfing when he saw the plane taking off. “He ended up crashing around the eighth hole.”
Kuprycz estimated the plane was about 200 feet overhead when it plunged to the ground.
“There was no explosion or anything. It just sounded like a car hitting the ground or a tree or something. Like that one little bang, and that was it,” Kuprycz said.
Charlie Thomson, a flight instructor at the airport who saw Ford take off, said engine failure like Ford’s does not make the plane harder to maneuver. “It just means you have to go down,” he said.
Gloria Dedios, 43, lives across street from the golf course. She was making juice in the kitchen when she heard the plane crash and the ground shook.
On the golf course, she saw four or five people helping Ford. Paramedics arrived and asked him to move his head and his arms, which he did. He also was able to move his legs.
Ford is cast to play the swashbuckling Solo in his fourth “Star Wars” movie, set for release in December. The original “Star Wars” in 1977 made Ford an overnight star who later played whip-slinging archaeologist Indiana Jones in four hugely popular movies.
Shooting on “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” was shut down for several weeks last July after Ford broke his leg during filming at the Pinewood Studios outside London. The accident involved the spacecraft door of the Millennium Falcon, which makes a return in the highly anticipated film.
Ford got his pilot’s license in the late 1980s and has made headlines with his flying before, though he had never been significantly injured doing it. In 2001, he rescued a missing Boy Scout with his helicopter. Nearly a year before, he rescued an ailing mountain climber in Jackson, Wyoming.
In 2000 in Lincoln, Nebraska, a gust of wind sent a six-seat plane Ford was piloting off the runway. He and his passenger were not injured.
He has also volunteered his services during forest-fire season, when rescue helicopters are busy fighting blazes.
The actor has said his rescues “had nothing to do with heroism.”
“It had to do with flying a helicopter. That’s all,” he said.