03/06/2015 01:06 EST | Updated 05/06/2015 05:59 EDT

Harrison Ford suffered 'bad laceration,' plane crash witness says

Harrison Ford remained in hospital with a "bad laceration" to his scalp today, after the Star Wars actor crash-landed a vintage aircraft on a Los Angeles golf course Thursday.

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The 72-year-old star and avid pilot appeared to have a gash on his scalp "the size of a pancake," or about 12 to 15 centimetres, at the scene of the crash, a witness told People magazine Friday.

"He had a pretty bad laceration. It went from the middle of his scalp down his forehead to the right," said the unnamed witness, who claimed to have been on the scene within moments of the crash at the Penmar Golf Course, in Venice, Calif.

"It was a clean cut and wasn't bleeding too much, considering," the witness added .

Conflicting reports on condition

Harrison's condition has been the matter of intense speculation since the single-engine Second World War-era plane went down Thursday afternoon soon after taking off from the nearby Santa Monica Airport.

Initial media reports speculated that Ford was in critical condition, but assistant Los Angeles fire chief Patrick Butler later clarified that the actor was "alert and talking" when he was taken to a local hospital.

"He wasn't a bloody mess. He was alert. He had good vitals," Butler said.​

Ford's publicist also worked to ease fears about the celebrity's prognosis, saying that Ford's injuries were not-life threatening. The actor was "banged up and is in the hospital receiving medical care," said a statement late Thursday.

He was reportedly recovering from surgery to repair broken bones at UCLA Medical Center Friday, according to CBS News.

The actor's son, Ben Ford, said on Twitter that his dad was "battered but OK."

'Beautifully executed' landing

Ford, who has made a Hollywood career playing daring characters such as Star Wars'  Han Solo and a Nazi-fighting archaeologist in the Indian Jones series of films, is being painted as a hero for the way he responded to Thursday's mid-air emergency.

Ford took off at 2 p.m. Thursday. About 20 minutes later, he told the airport tower that he had engine failure and was making an immediate return, according to a recording posted by

Can't see the video? Watch it here.

"I would say that this is an absolutely beautifully executed — what we would call a forced or emergency landing, by an unbelievably well-trained pilot," said Christian Fry of the Santa Monica Airport Association.

Charlie Thomson, a flight instructor at the airport who saw Ford take off, said engine failure like Ford's does not make the plane harder to manoeuvre. "It just means you have to go down," he said.

Ford crashed on a fairway of Penmar golf course.

"Immediately you could see the engine started to sputter and just cut out, and he banked sharply to the left," said Jeff Kuprycz, who was golfing when he saw the plane taking off.

The plane had been flying at about 3,000 feet. It hit a tree on the way down, according to witnesses and officials.

The plane, a yellow 1942 Ryan Aeronautical ST3KR with stars on its wings, had damage mostly confined to the front.

Kuprycz said there was no explosion when the plane reached the ground. "It just sounded like a car hitting the ground or a tree or something. Like that one little bang, and that was it."

Among the first people to reach Ford was a spinal surgeon who had been golfing.

Sanjay Khurana told TV stations in Los Angeles that he found Ford slumped over in the cockpit but conscious.

Aside from worrying about Ford's injuries from the impact, he saw fuel leaking out and became concerned that the plane could explode. As he helped pull Ford from the wreckage, others threw dirt on the fuel.

Crashed near residential area

The airport's single runway sits amid residential neighbourhoods in the city of more than 90,000 on the Pacific Ocean. City leaders and many residents advocate closing the airport, citing noise and safety concerns. Other planes taking off or landing there have crashed into homes, and in September 2013 four people died when their small jet veered into a hangar and caught fire.

Ford, who plays the swashbuckling Solo in his fourth Star Wars movie set for release in December, is known to shun attention to his private life but has been publicly effusive about his love of flying.

After arriving in his own plane at a 2001 fundraising gala for Seattle's Museum of Flight, Ford said he was glad to help "engage kids in the romance and the mystery and the adventure of flying. ... I know what it means."

Decades of experience

Ford got his pilot's license in the 1990s and has made headlines with his flying, though he had never been significantly injured. In 2001, he rescued a missing Boy Scout with his helicopter. Nearly a year before, he rescued an ailing mountain climber in Wyoming.

In 2000, a gust of wind sent a six-seat plane Ford was piloting off a runway in Lincoln, Nebraska. He and his passenger were not injured.

He has also volunteered his services during forest-fire season, when rescue helicopters are busy battling blazes.

The actor, who is married to Calista Flockhart of Ally McBeal fame, has said his rescues "had nothing to do with heroism."

"It had to do with flying a helicopter. That's all," he said.

The National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the crash in a process that could take up to a year before a final report. NTSB investigator Patrick Jones said the agency would look at "everything: weather, man, the machine."

Ford suffered a broken leg last year while filming on the set of Disney's Star Wars: Episode VII set in England.

Production on the movie was halted for two weeks as he recovered.

Last week, Alcon Entertainment announced that Ford was set to reprise his role as Rick Deckard in a sequel to the dystopian, neo-noir Blade Runner. 

Production on the film was set to begin in the summer of 2016.

It wasn't immediately clear whether Ford's injuries would affect his involvement in the the film.