A bloodied Harrison Ford asked, “Where am I?" as a group of bystanders carefully extracted him from the wreckage of his vintage plane after it crashed Thursday, a witness says.
That witness, a spine surgeon, was a first responder when Ford's plane landed within 50 yards of him at Venice's Penmar Golf Course.
Sanjay Khurana was playing golf, walking toward the seventh green, when he noticed a group of golfers pointing toward the sky.
Ford’s vintage airplane was gliding just above them, about 100 feet in the air, he said. Khurana saw the plane’s right wingtip strike a tree and send branches flying into the air. Then Ford's plane came down, crashing near the 8th hole, about 40 or 50 yards from Khurana.
“It felt like an earthquake,” he said. Golfers scattered.
Khurana was among a group that rushed toward the plane, where the pilot was slumped over. He was completely exposed as the plane's passenger compartment was not enclosed, and his face and body were covered in blood, the doctor said.
The engine was leaking fuel, so Khurana asked a few golfers to kick dirt over it to avoid a fire.
Khurana stabilized his neck and head while two others released his seat belt straps. Four people, including Khurana, lifted Ford slowly out of the plane and placed him on the ground.
Unaware of his surroundings, Ford asked where he was. The actor was "stunned," Khurana said. As the doctor continued to speak with him and assess his condition, Ford regained his senses.
During their conversation, Khurana said he realized the pilot was movie star Harrison Ford. He described him as an “iconic individual.”
Ford was taken to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center after the crash.
Patrick Jones, an investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board, said the actor had departed Santa Monica Airport at 2:20 p.m. in a Ryan PT-22 Recruit heading west. Just minutes into the flight, he reported a loss of engine power and tried to return to the airport to land on Runway 3.
Instead, he crashed on the golf course.
"He was banged up," Ford's publicist said in a statement. "The injuries sustained are not life threatening."
Jones said, “Any time a human being can survive an accident involving an airplane or any type of mechanical device is a good day.”
Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board said they had not determined what caused the engine failure. Investigators planned to document the accident site and move the plane to a hangar, where they could conduct further investigation.
Investigators will be examining the 1942 vintage plane, its engine, flight controls and records. A preliminary report could be completed in a couple of weeks or in a month, Jones said. It could take up to a year for the final accident report.
Investigators plan to interview Ford as well as numerous witnesses.
Aviation expert John Silcott said smaller planes crash more frequently because the pilots often lack experience. Airline pilots often have accumulated more hours flying than private pilots, he said.
A private pilot usually accumulates 100 hours of flying time annually, and an airline pilot is in the skies for about 80 hours per month, said Silcott, who has 19 years of flying experience and was also an accident prevention counselor with the FAA’s Las Vegas Flight Standards District Office.
Ford is an avid aviator but has crashed in the past. On a helicopter ride in 1999 with his flight instructor, he crashed into a Ventura County riverbed. Ford walked away unhurt.
Venice resident Larry Colby was walking on Palms Boulevard when he saw Ford’s plane climbing in the air. It appeared that the plane had just left Santa Monica Airport.
As the plane climbed, Colby said he heard a sound like a “blip,” which he believes came from the engine.
“I figured ‘OK, he’s in trouble,’” he said.
That’s when he saw the plane bank to the left and make a 180-degree turn toward the airport. Colby said he thinks Ford’s plane was over homes in the area.
He didn’t see smoke or flames and no longer heard the engine. The plane, he said, appeared to be under control but was “obviously too low.”
He continued walking and tracked the plane, all the while thinking, “I just don’t see how it’s going to make it.” Meanwhile, he worried about the children in the neighborhood who may have been home from school.
He didn’t hear anything else, so he thought the pilot made it to the airport. Moments later, he heard an ambulance and saw a fire department vehicle speed by him.
“I said a short prayer for the pilot,” he said.
Colby said he didn’t know the pilot was Ford until he heard later reports, but he thought Ford saved lives.
“He made a choice, and the decision was to go down on the golf course,” he said. And for that, Colby said, “he is a hero.”