LOS ANGELES (AP) – When a man battles Darth Vader, Nazis and other evil-doers for work, what does he do for fun? Harrison Ford’s answer is found in a pilot’s license and the freedom to take to the skies at will.
But with adventure comes risk, just as Han Solo, Indiana Jones and other daring movie characters brought to life by Ford realized. On Thursday, one of Hollywood’s preeminent stars added a plane crash to an aviation record that includes both mishaps and public service.
Ford, 72, who as dashing archaeologist Jones battled Hitler’s henchmen in the World War II-set “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” was flying a vintage plane of that era when it lost engine power shortly after takeoff from Santa Monica Municipal Airport.
The plane crash-landed on a golf course near the airport where Ford houses the craft.
He was pulled from the plane and given initial help by doctors who happened to be playing golf on the course that is right next to Santa Monica Municipal Airport, Los Angeles fire officials said. He was then taken by ambulance to a hospital in a condition described as fair-to-moderate.
“He had no other choice but to make an emergency landing, which he did safely,” Ford spokeswoman Ina Treciokas said. “He was banged up and is in the hospital receiving medical care.”
The injuries are not life-threatening and he is expected to make a full recovery, she said in a statement Friday night. No one on the ground was hurt.
Ford, who is known to shun attention to his private life, has been publicly effusive about his love of flying.
After arriving in his own plane at a 2001 fundraising gala for Seattle’s Museum of Flight, Ford said he was glad to help “engage kids in the romance and the mystery and the adventure of flying. … I know what it means.”
Ford took off from the LA area airport at 2 p.m. Friday. About 20 minutes later, he told the tower that he had engine failure and was making an immediate return, according to a recording posted by the website LiveATC.net.
The plane had been flying at about 3,000 feet and hit a tree on the way down, according to witnesses and officials.
Ford had a cut to his forehead and scraped arms, but it wasn’t clear what internal injuries he may have had, Los Angeles Assistant Fire Chief Patrick Butler said. “He wasn’t a bloody mess. He was alert. He had good vitals,” Butler said.
The bystanders pulled him from the plane because they were afraid it might explode or catch fire, Butler said.
The plane, a yellow 1942 Ryan Aeronautical ST3KR with stars on its wings, was upright and with damage mostly confined to the front. 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.
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 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 plays the swashbuckling Solo again 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 the whip-slinging Jones in four hugely popular movies.
Ford got his pilot’s license in the 1990s 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, who is married to Calista Flockhart of “Ally McBeal” fame, has said his rescues “had nothing to do with heroism.”
“It had to do with flying a helicopter. That’s all,” he said.
The National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the crash in a process that could take up to a year before a final report. NTSB investigator Patrick Jones said “we’re going to look at everything: weather, man, the machine.”