Story highlights

Resident heard the plane's engine in distress and watched as it turned back

It tipped a treetop and skidded down onto a golf course across from the airport

No one else was on board

Venice, California CNN  — 

It was not Harrison Ford, the veteran actor, who made news Thursday; it was Harrison Ford, the experienced pilot, who managed to coax his single-engine plane to a forced landing on a Southern California golf course after the plane’s engine failed.

The 72-year-old remained hospitalized Friday, “Battered but OK,” according to a tweet by his son.

Jens Lucking lives near the Santa Monica crash site and heard Ford’s distressed engine.

“When he was right by the house, the engine cut out and then he turned around,” he said.

Ford called in an emergency to Santa Monica Municipal Airport and steered the sinking craft toward the runway. Air traffic control gave Ford permission to land but the plane, struggling to stay airborne, didn’t make it.

Sinking fast

It brushed a treetop, then dropped and raked the Penmar Golf Course right across from the airport, National Transportation and Safety Board spokesman Patrick Jones said. It came to a halt yards away from a street. Ford was the only person on board.

The bright yellow and silver 1942 Ryan Aeronautical ST3KR with the number 50 on the side has become one of Ford’s trademarks, with paparazzi snapping him taking off in its open-air dual cockpit. It lay sprawled flat after Thursday’s accident, with its red nose bent down into the ground.

Jones said that it will be moved Friday into a local airplane hangar, where the investigation will continue.

Tom Haines, also a pilot, has flown with Ford before and praised his skill. “He’s a very skilled pilot. He’s very safety-conscious and goes to training routinely for all of his aircraft,” Haines said.

Conjuring film image

An emergency team arrived, cared for the pilot and took him off on a stretcher in an ambulance to a hospital. He was alert and conscious at the crash site, a fire official said.

Authorities would not identify Ford as the pilot and crash victim, but his publicist and son did.

“The injuries sustained are not life threatening, and he is expected to make a full recovery,” Ford’s publicist Ina Treciokas said.

With Ford at the controls, it’s hard not to juxtapose upon him the characters he has embodied, such as Han Solo, who regularly edged past mortal danger in a barely airworthy “vintage” Millennium Falcon in the futuristic distan past setting of “Star Wars.”

The actor’s son, Ben Ford, alluded to it in a tweet to reassure fans:

“Dad is ok. Battered, but ok! He is every bit the man you would think he is. He is an incredibly strong man.”

Solo’s cinematic co-pilot Chewbacca was played by Peter Mayhew, who tweeted best wishes to Ford, “Here’s hoping my buddy comes away with just another scar to match his crooked smile. Speedy Recovery Harrison!”

Dousing mystique

Anyone coming away from any crash of any kind is lucky. But bringing a plane down successfully and without serious injury is not superhuman for any experienced pilot, NTSB investigator Jones said.

It’s the norm. And “this pilot is an experienced pilot.”

Annually, about 2,000 planes crash, Jones said. “It is unusual for pilots to lose their lives.”

This wasn’t Ford’s first air mishap.

In 1999, he made a hard emergency landing in a California riverbed while flying in a helicopter with a flight instructor. And in 2000, he reportedly slid off the runway while landing a plane in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Expert: Dangerous plane

The crash probably has less to do with the pilot and more with the plane, said CNN aviation analyst Mary Schiavo.

The older the plane, the more likely it is to crash, she said. “As the years go on, they get a lot more dangerous.”

“They need very special care,” and aviation laws proscribe their flying parameters. “You have to follow a special aging aircraft protocol,” Schiavo said.

But she complimented Ford’s move. He set the unpowered plane up for a good glide, she said.

Ford also drives a vintage car, a late model Jaguar convertible, which he has often been photographed in.

Airport fight

Ford has reportedly been at odds with residents near the airport.

To some neighbors, the small Santa Monica Airport, known by IATA code SMO, is a thorn in the side – a source of noise, exhaust and danger. There have reportedly been a handful of previous crashes there.

SMO was originally built in 1919 and has just one runway. But it is now squeezed into a very dense neighborhood. Golfers and neighbors say aircraft fly too close to homes.

SMO’s days may be numbered, the Santa Monica Daily Press reported, as the end-date of the agreement over its land use is under dispute.

Ford has reportedly fought alongside SMO’s fans to keep it open and donated tens of thousands of dollars to lobby voters to wrest some control over it away from the city council.

That campaign failed.

CNN’s Kyung Lah reported from Santa Monica and Ben Brumfield reported and wrote in Atlanta. CNN’s Rosalina Nieves, Steve Almasy and Sam Stringer contributed to this report.