Details of the crash at Penmar Golf Course are still under investigation, but a rep for Ford, 72, confirmed he was flying the World War II-era aircraft alone when it had engine trouble during takeoff.
PEOPLE spoke to Rick Dake of Aviation Consulting Experts, who says that given the reported circumstances, “Everything he did was perfect.”
The aircraft Ford was flying, a Ryan PT-22 Recruit (the model was originally used for pilot training), is “not a forgiving airplane,” Dake says. “A lot of new pilots in the war crashed that airplane. When it’s slow, like the engine has stopped, it would want to flip over on its back. That alone is testament to the great ability Harrison Ford had. He made a 180-degree turn with the engine seizing up on him. He almost made it to the runway.”
Dake and Ford have a mutual friend in the aviation world and Dake says the actor is “respected in the aviation ranks,” known for collecting vintage aircraft and keeping them maintained “immaculately.”
Of the emergency landing, Dake says the calls Ford made were spot-on.
“He was able to keep that plane away from the houses and land it with the least impact on the community. That was the best place he could have landed it,” says Dake. “He was 100 percent doing exactly what an excellent aviator would do.”
“Pilots of his caliber – and I’ve been in the industry for over 43 years – in the back of your mind you always have somewhere to land an airplane.”
In a press conference, National Transportation Safety Board investigator Patrick Jones addressed the in-air U-turn Ford made to return to the airport after the troubled takeoff.
“A return to airport depends on what altitude you’re at and I don’t know what altitude this pilot was at, at the point and time that he chose to do that, so I have no way in knowing if that was a good thing or a bad thing,” Jones said.
Jones also reiterated Ford’s skill. “Flying an aircraft, whether it’s this aircraft or a helicopter, it all takes experience. This is an experienced pilot.”
Both the NTSB and FAA are investigating the crash.
A plane enthusiast who witnessed the crash told PEOPLE: “He had engine failure during takeoff from the Santa Monica Airport. He was on the west side of the golf course and tried to get back to the airport, so he started going east, but then he clipped a tree and fell on the east side of the golf course. During takeoff, the engine blew. You could hear it go silent, and then he banked to the left, clipped the tree and fell on the No. 8 tee.”
Ford is being treated at an L.A. hospital with his son Ben, a chef, at his side.
Adds Ford’s rep: “He had no other choice but to make an emergency landing, which he did safely. He was banged up and is in the hospital receiving medical care. The injuries sustained are not life-threatening, and he is expected to make a full recovery.
• Reporting by MARY GREEN
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