By Matt Stevens and Dan Weikel, Los Angeles Times (TNS)
LOS ANGELES — Actor Harrison Ford was injured Thursday when his vintage airplane experienced engine trouble and crash-landed on a Venice golf course — an accident that could well spur efforts to close Santa Monica Municipal Airport.
Ford, 72, an experienced pilot and owner of several aircraft, plowed the yellow-and-silver plane into a fairway at Penmar golf course about 2:25 p.m., shortly after takeoff. According to air traffic control recordings, he reported an engine failure to the Santa Monica tower and had been cleared to return.
Authorities said Ford managed to fly over Penmar, which is on the airport’s departure route and provides a swath of open space for pilots to use in emergencies.
He was flying solo in a restored Ryan PT-22 Recruit, a sleek two-place monoplane built during World War II to train Army Air Forces pilots. Federal Aviation Administration records show the plane is registered to MG Aviation Inc., a Delaware company.
Los Angeles firefighters said Ford, best known for his roles in the “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones” movies, was conscious when they arrived. He was outside the plane being tended by several bystanders.
Paramedics treated Ford at the scene and he remained hospitalized Thursday night. At an afternoon news conference, Assistant Fire Chief Patrick Butler said Ford was alert and had suffered moderate trauma.
“Normally, the outcomes are fatalities, so we are very thankful,” Butler said.
Ina Treciokas, Ford’s publicist, said in a prepared statement that the actor was banged up, but his injuries were not life-threatening. He is expected to make a full recovery, she said. Some of his injuries have been described as bumps, bruises and cuts.
The National Transportation Safety Board and the FAA will investigate the crash and determine its cause.
Shortly after the accident, anti-airport activists and Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin, whose Westside district borders Santa Monica Municipal Airport, reiterated their positions that the beleaguered facility should be shut down.
They contend that the airport is unsafe, and that surrounding neighborhoods are affected by noise and air pollution from flight operations. City officials have tried repeatedly to close the facility and to ban certain types of jets, but they have lost in court battles with the FAA.
“Really, for me, the first concern has always been the fear of a plane falling out of the sky and landing in someone’s home,” Bonin said. “That has happened in the past.”
NTSB records and news reports show there have been 42 Santa Monica-related crashes since 1982 within five miles of the airport. Eleven planes came down in Santa Monica and West Los Angeles neighborhoods.
One crashed in a Venice intersection and two, including Ford’s plane, have come down on Penmar. No one on the ground has been killed or seriously injured.
Based on the number of accidents per 100,000 takeoffs and landings, Santa Monica ranks in the middle of the 11 busiest general aviation airports with control towers in Los Angeles, Orange County and Riverside counties.
“We are certainly hoping that Harrison Ford will have a full recovery,” said Martin Rubin, president of Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution. “But this is the second crash in Penmar over the years. This certainly raises safety concerns. Santa Monica is unique in the nation because it has dense neighborhoods next to an airport.”
Valerie Davidson, a 25-year Santa Monica resident who lives one street away from the site of Thursday’s crash, said: “We all live in fear here.
“It’s really going to cause a major problem when a big jet comes down,” said Davidson, 55. Ford “flies in and out of here all time. He’s not a friend of the residents of this neighborhood. I’m pleased he’s OK…. But this might be a wake-up call.”
FAA officials and airport supporters say the city is obligated under various agreements dating from 1948 to keep the airport open unless the U.S. government agrees otherwise. They also say the airport is a vital part of the region’s transportation system.
Ford has been part of the effort to preserve the airport. He contributed almost $26,000 to the campaign for a pro-airport ballot measure that was defeated in November’s city election.
He also joined with airport tenants in asking the federal government to determine whether the terms of an aviation improvement grant require Santa Monica to keep the airport open until at least 2023. That proceeding is pending.
At the time of Thursday’s crash, Ford had only recently recovered from a broken left leg he suffered in June while filming “Star Wars: Episode VII.” The injury required him to have surgery and go through rehab, causing a two-week hiatus in filming.
On screen, the actor has often starred in stunt-heavy adventure films — the “Indiana Jones” franchise, Blade Runner and Air Force One. When he played a pilot in Six Days/Seven Nights, he flew as part of the role after meeting requirements set out by the FAA and the film’s insurance company.
But he’s never been afraid of taking risks off-set, either. He’s long held a passion for both motorcycles and airplanes, telling Playboy in 2002 that he loves the “combination of freedom and responsibility” that flying gives him.
“It’s anonymity,” he said. “I’m not Harrison Ford, I’m November 1128 Sierra.”
Staff writers Brittny Mejia, Matt Hamilton, Amy Kaufman and Josh Rottenberg contributed to this report.
Photo: A vintage single-engine airplane, piloted by actor Harrison Ford, crashes on the Penmar Golf Course in the Venice neighborhood of Los Angeles on Thursday, March 5, 2015. Ford was taken to a nearby hospital with “moderate trauma,” according to fire department officials. (Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times/TNS)