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Harrison Ford "saved several lives" by avoiding crashing his vintage plane into a densely populated area, an eyewitness told NBC News on Friday. The 72-year-old star was hospitalized after he ditched his World War II training plane on a Los Angeles golf course Thursday after losing engine power.
NTSB investigators said Friday morning that they would begin removing the wreckage from the Penmar Golf Course and determine if a mechanical failure might have caused the crash. "Anytime that a human being can survive an accident involving an airplane ... it’s a good day," investigator Patrick Jones said at a news conference.
The "Star Wars" actor emerged from the incident conscious and alert, with a broken arm and a nasty gash to his head. Ford's publicist said his injuries were non-life-threatening and he was expected to make a full recovery.
But an eyewitness said the crash could have been far worse had the actor not had the skill and awareness to avoid the suburban area surrounding the small, nine-hole golf course.
"Looking at where he crashed and how the plane went down, I’m sure there was a moment where he said, ‘I’m not going to risk lives, whatever happens, happens. It’s going to be just me,'" said 47-year-old camera assistant Eddie Aguglia, who was playing a round of golf at the time.
"He risked life and limb by putting it down on the golf course instead of trying to go further to try to get back to the airport," Aguglia told NBC News. "Another 25 to 30 yards and ... I don’t want to think about it. He saved several lives."
Aguglia, who is from Studio City, Los Angeles, said the golf course was near a school and surrounded by densely populated residential streets. It was just blocks away from Santa Monica Airport, where Ford took off in the Ryan Aeronautical ST3KR aircraft before crashing at around 2:20 p.m. (5:20 p.m. ET).
Charlie Thompson, a flight instructor at the airport who saw Ford take off, told NBC Los Angeles that it was likely no coincidence that Ford crashed on the golf course and not into the surrounding residential area.
"When you have an engine failure as a pilot you are taught the number one priority is the safety of the people on the ground," Thompson said. "The golf course is the place where you could land the safest for the local community and making sure he didn't endanger the people in the local area."
The NTSB said Friday morning that investigators had yet to interview Ford. The plane itself may not yield a wealth of electronic clues, he added. "It’s a 1942 vintage aircraft, there’s not a lot of computers to it," Jones said. "A lot of it is old-school mechanical. We’ll take a look at it."
He added that pilots in crash-land situations often have to think quickly to secure the safest spots to put down their planes — and in this case, it happened to be a golf course.
"When you take off from an airport … and you need to land an aircraft, you have to pick the best spots where you are," Jones said. "And apparently these are the best spots.”