And a lot of people got a glimpse of the movie star pilot's aircraft and what Christian Fry, vice president of the Santa Monica Airport Association, called his "beautifully forced landing."
"It's not a crash," Fry tells PEOPLE. "It appears that they had some sort of engine trouble during takeoff, which happens from time to time with airplane, but when that occurs, the beauty of Santa Monica Airport is we have the golf course, which runs parallel to our main runway. So, engine trouble, he appeared to have made a turn back towards the airport and didn't have enough speed to make it to the runway, so he made a beautifully executed forced landing here at the golf course, so really just a great job by a very well-trained pilot."
Ford, 72 – who is "battered, but ok," according to a Tweet from his son Ben – is an experienced pilot and has had close calls before. His six-passenger plane took a hard landing in Lincoln, Nebraska, in the summer of 2000, and he crash-landed a helicopter in October 1999 while he was practicing emergency landings with a flight instructor.
Another eyewitness, local TV producer J. Ryan, says he knew that something was wrong when he saw the plane in the sky and took the photo, above, at 2:22 p.m. PT, about two minutes before the crash:
"I was working in the garage and I heard a plane so stepped out to take a look. I looked straight up and there was this yellow vintage aircraft and it sounded like it was sputtering," he says. "The plane just didn't look healthy. I randomly thought to take a picture. The plane was unusually low to the ground, even for a plane that had just taken off from Santa Monica airport. The plane was headed west towards the beach when I saw it make a left bank back towards the airport. It was not a smooth turn to go back to the airport. In general it just didn't seem like any normal sort of flight path, and living here I see planes take off and land everyday. It was just odd. The plane was probably over Lincoln Boulevard when I saw it."
Other witnesses in the area when the plane went down took photos and posted them to Twitter:
Plane crash penmar golf course pic.twitter.com/MelpAI76Je— Nocy Music (@nocymusic) March 5, 2015
"I was playing golf at penmar when plane crashed behind us and Harrison ford was pilot," @NocyMusic Tweeted, adding in a separate Tweet that he saw Harrison "bleeding from head."
Howard Tabe, an employee at Penmar, told NBC News: "There was blood all over his face ... Two very fine doctors were treating him, taking good care of him. I helped put a blanket under his hip."
Ben Hubley was out for an afternoon jog when he heard a frightening noise:
"I always run this same course on Dewey and I just saw a plane descending as I was running, and then I heard a 'boom' when it was falling. When I heard the noise, it was almost like a white light that just flashed, so that was probably the engine malfunctioning. My mom was driving down 23rd Street at the same time and she saw it," he says.
An unnamed, self-proclaimed plane enthusiast on the scene tells PEOPLE he also knew something was amiss with the flight and saw the plane hit a tree as it approached the ground:
"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."
Reporting by JENNIFER GARCIA and NICOLE SANDS
More on Harrison Ford's plane crash:
Harrison Ford in Stable Condition After Plane Crash
Harrison Ford Suffered 'Bad Laceration' to Scalp in Plane Crash, Says Eyewitness
Harrison Ford Is 'Battered but OK,' Son Says
Inside Harrison Ford's Passion for Flying – and Scariest Crashes
Aviation Expert on Harrison Ford's Crash Landing: 'Everything He Did Was Perfect'
Twitter Flooded with Show of Support for Harrison Ford After Plane Crash