Inside Harrison Ford’s Terrifying Crash-Landing

The film icon was left seriously injured after his plane crashed onto a golf course Thursday, but ‘fortunate in making a fairly safe landing,’ a firefighter tells The Daily Beast.

03.06.15 3:17 AM ET

Harrison Ford is lucky to be alive after crash-landing his vintage WWII-era single-engine airplane into the greens of a golf course in Venice, California, a Los Angeles Fire Department spokesperson tells The Daily Beast.

The 72-year-old screen legend and longtime aerial enthusiast was flying solo out of Santa Monica Municipal Airport Thursday afternoon when he reported engine failure shortly after takeoff and requested an immediate return. He was forced to make an emergency landing at nearby Penmar Golf Course around 2:30 p.m., suffering injuries in the process that included a bloody head wound.

“Harrison was flying a WW2 vintage plane today which had engine trouble upon take off. He had no other choice but to make an emergency landing, which he did safely.  He was banged up and is in the hospital receiving medical care. The injuries sustained are not life-threatening, and he is expected to make a full recovery,” his publicist said in a statement to The Daily Beast.

Eyewitnesses on the ground reported that they did not hear the airplane’s engines as it descended, crumpling its nose on the ground near the 8th hole. Onlookers pulled him out of the wrecked plane. Luckily, doctors like to golf—one of the rescuers was a physician.

“He was able to speak—he expressed that he was in pain, which was no surprise,” witness Elaine Miller told ABC7. “He had a significant head wound… he asked somebody to hold his legs up.”

Erik Scott of the LAFD told The Daily Beast that local emergency responders have seen similar crashes inflict much greater injury and death, including in recent months. He said Ford’s “medium to high-impact landing” in the single-engine Ryan ST3KR plane was reminiscent of a fatal small airplane crash near Van Nuys Airport in January that claimed the life of its adult male pilot.   

“Small single-engine aircrafts that perform hard landings or crashes we’ve covered usually result in more significant injuries and/or death,” said Scott, who added that Ford “was fortunate in making a fairly safe landing.”

When paramedics arrived on the scene they found Ford “conscious and breathing,” said Scott. He was treated and transported to UCLA Medical Center. While initial reports sent media into a frenzy calling Ford’s condition “critical,” his injuries were upgraded to “fair to moderate” and son Ben Ford later Tweeted that he was “battered, but ok.”

Just nine months ago, Ford briefly stopped hearts across the Galaxy when he broke his left leg in an incident involving the Millennium Falcon’s door while filming Star Wars: The Force Awakens at London’s Pinewood Studios. He underwent surgery and promptly started rehab, and J.J. Abrams’ December 2015 release marched on. 

Thursday’s accident is also not the first time the Star Wars and Indiana Jones star has walked away from a crash. Ford started training as a pilot in the 1990s, flying his private airplanes frequently out of Santa Monica and Jackson, Wyoming. In 1999, he skirted injury when the Bell 206L4 helicopter he was piloting crash-landed in a Santa Clarita riverbed, skidded in the sand, and flipped on its side.

Ford and his flight instructor were unharmed in that incident, but a National Transportation Safety Board investigation determined the cause was the combined result of Ford’s delayed recovery during an aerial exercise coupled with the instructor’s “inadequate supervision of the flight.”

An airplane sits on the ground after crash landing at Penmar Golf Course in Venice, Los Angeles, California March 5, 2015. Actor Harrison Ford was injured on Thursday in the crash of a small airplane outside Los Angeles, celebrity website TMZ reported. Reuters could not immediately confirm the report on TMZ, which said that Ford, 72, suffered multiple gashes to his head and was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES - Tags: DISASTER ENTERTAINMENT TRANSPORT) - RTR4S95G

Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

“I was never the best student,” Ford admitted in a 2009 interview. “Part of the reason why I wanted to learn to fly was because I felt like I had not learned anything in a long time and wanted to see if I could learn something new.”

Despite taking a few lessons in his 20s, Ford didn’t pick up flight training in earnest until the mid-’90s after reaching action hero status with the aforementioned movies, as well as the espionage-thrillers Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger

“I wasn’t sure if at the age of 54 that I still had the capacity to learn something that I saw as very complicated and difficult,” he said. “I was so identified with what I did for a living, and I enjoy it, have respect for it, and love the freedom and responsibility that acting provides; however, flying gave me the opportunity to create an identity other than Harrison Ford, the actor. I admire the ability to fly and always loved the sound of airplanes and was curious about them.”

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Ford has also garnered positive attention for his aeronautical hobby, like when he rescued a lost hiker in his Bell 407 helicopter in 2000 while serving as a sheriff’s deputy for the Teton County Search and Rescue. A year later, he flew a 13-year-old Boy Scout to safety from Yellowstone National Park. 

Speaking with Downwind Magazine in 2009, Ford spoke of his predilection for solo flying. “I enjoy the pure freedom, and the beauty of the third dimension when you fly. We live in a two-dimensional world when our feet are on the ground, and getting in the sky is a rare experience that re-invigorates your perspective on things. Flying is always an adventure.  I always enjoy the company of other pilots but like to fly alone too, although it’s nice to have someone along to admire my landing.”

The Federal Aviation Administration told The Daily Beast that “NTSB [The National Transportation Safety Board], the agency leading the investigation, is expected to release a preliminary report within the next few weeks.”

In addition to December’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Ford recently signed on to reprise his role as Rick Deckard in the Blade Runner sequel—although it’s not yet known how his plane crash might knock those plans off course. Among those relieved to hear the erstwhile Han Solo will live to fly again was onetime co-pilot Peter Mayhew, a.k.a. Chewbacca himself, who put Thursday’s international Harrison Ford crisis into perspective: