LOS ANGELES (AP) – Dr. Sanjay Khurana was close to finishing a golf game when a vintage plane clipped a tree and “dropped like a rock” onto the next hole’s green. He rushed to the crash, finding a pilot bleeding from a deep gash in his head.
When the surgeon got a closer look, he was stunned to see the pilot was Harrison Ford, the actor he grew up watching in the “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones” movie franchises.
“I’m a child of the ’80s,” Khurana said Friday. “I’m a big fan.”
One of Hollywood’s pre-eminent stars, who is also an experienced pilot, crash-landed his World War II-era plane Thursday, but he was conscious and able to talk when witnesses pulled him from the wreckage.
Soon after Ford took off from Santa Monica Municipal Airport near Los Angeles, he radioed that the single engine of his 1942 Ryan Aeronautical ST3KR stopped working and he was going to make an immediate return.
Ford, who received his pilot’s license in the 1990s, glided his plane onto a fairway near the airport in what aviation experts characterized as a skillful landing given a total loss of power above a densely populated area.
Ford’s publicist, Ina Treciokas, said the actor’s injuries were “not life-threatening, and he is expected to make a full recovery.” Ford’s son Ben tweeted Thursday from the hospital: “Dad is ok. Battered, but ok! He is every bit the man you would think he is. He is an incredibly strong man.”
No one on the ground was hurt.
National Transportation Safety Board investigators hoped to speak to Ford but had not done so as of Friday morning.
“We definitely want to know what he knows,” investigator Patrick Jones told reporters.
Safety board experts will look at the airplane’s engine, flight controls and records, Jones said. A final determination of what happened will take about a year.
What was immediately clear to fellow pilots is that Ford did a remarkable job guiding his crippled plane away from homes and, without enough altitude to reach the airport, onto the golf course’s relatively flat ground.
“I would say that this is an absolutely beautifully executed – what we would call – a forced or emergency landing,” said Christian Fry of the Santa Monica Airport Association.
The plane, which was called the PT-22 Recruit when it was used as a U.S. Army training aircraft, was intentionally designed to mimic the flight characteristics of larger warplanes, making it a tougher flying challenge, said Larry Lee, 68, of Atlanta, Georgia.
Lee lost his own PT-22 last summer when the engine failed as he was 130 feet above ground approaching a grass field.
Unlike Cessnas and other small planes, the PT-22 can roll over and plunge straight to the ground unless it is driven down and forward to keep up its speed.
Lee managed to land his plane in a soft area between pine trees although “I left my wings in the trees,” he said.
Ford, an experienced pilot, did the right thing in the emergency, Lee said.
“Keeping the plane under control…saved his life and the lives of people on the ground,” Lee said.
Ford is not the only Hollywood heavyweight at Santa Monica’s airport, which sits amid million-dollar homes near the Pacific Ocean.
A studio executive who pilots his own aircraft and said he saw Ford’s flight described the landing as remarkable.
“He made the correct turn that the plane was designed for with an engine out,” Relativity Media CEO Ryan Kavanaugh told The Hollywood Reporter. “Ninety-nine percent of pilots would have turned around to go back to the runway and would have crashed.”
The fact that a spinal surgeon was playing a round of golf after a morning operation gave the crash-landing its own movie-like quality.
Khurana didn’t realize the actor who played Han Solo and Indiana Jones was at the plane’s controls until Ford lay about 10 yards from the plane. Fellow golfers who rushed to the pilot’s aid helped remove him from the open cockpit, fearing leaking fuel might ignite.
After hitting a tree, the plane “kind of spun a little bit and belly-flopped” with such force it felt like a small earthquake, Khurana said. He estimated it fell “like a rock” about 100 feet.
After dropping his clubs and rushing about 50 yards to the plane, Khurana found a bloodied pilot groaning, complaining of pain below his waist and “trying to get a sense of where he was and what had happened.”
It took several golfers to hoist Ford away from the wreckage, Khurana said.
“My initial fear was this was going to be one of those very serious, very tragic injuries right away. Fortunately, he was remarkably intact,” Khurana said.
As the doctor checked Ford’s breathing, circulation and other vitals, Khurana’s optimism grew. Then he realized he was treating the man who brought to life heroic characters of his youth.
It didn’t take long for paramedics to arrive and for Khurana to reflect on what had happened.
“I don’t think I would have ever imagined waking up that morning, that after an early day of surgery, I’d see an airplane crash,” he said. “It’s a very odd scenario. But I’m glad I could have been of help.”
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