Actor Harrison Ford was concerned about turbulence from a nearby airliner when he narrowly missed a passenger jet preparing for takeoff and landed on a taxiway last month at John Wayne Airport in Orange County, according to air traffic control recordings released Friday.
“I’m the schmuck who landed on the taxiway,” Ford told the tower shortly after touching down in his single-engine Aviat Husky on Feb. 13. “I was distracted by the airliner which was in movement when I turned to the runway and also the wake turbulence from the landing Airbus.”
Air traffic control had cleared Ford to land on Runway 20L, but he came in on Taxiway C after flying low over an American Airlines Boeing 737 that was holding short of the runway and minutes from taking off. Taxiway C runs parallel to the runway.
Federal Aviation Administration officials say that landing on a taxiway, instead of a runway, is a violation of FAA regulations and can subject a pilot to disciplinary action.
The agency, which is investigating the incident, released the audio recordings of Ford’s air traffic control communications in response to nine Freedom of Information Act requests from news media.
According to the recordings, air traffic control cautioned Ford during his approach to maintain his separation from an incoming Airbus jetliner because of possible wake turbulence. Such turbulence is especially hazardous in the area behind an airplane during takeoffs and landings.
Ford acknowledged the presence of the Airbus.
As he landed, the Husky flew low over American Airlines Flight 1459 with more than 100 people aboard. The airliner was awaiting instructions to take off.
“Was that airliner meant to be underneath me?” Ford asked the tower.
The air traffic controller answered that the Boeing 737 was holding short of the runway and advised Ford that he landed on Taxiway Charlie.
“I landed on Taxiway Charlie?” Ford responded.
When instructed to continue on the taxiway and hold short of Taxiway H, Ford told the controller, “Oohhh. I landed on Taxiway Charlie. I understand now. Sorry for that.”
After Ford landed, Edward Patton, the captain of the American Airlines jet, contacted air traffic control by telephone and discussed the incident with Irene Willard, the tower manager.
Patton mentioned that the tail of his aircraft is 42 feet high. “You get an idea how close we were,” he said.
Willard told him there was less than 100 feet of separation between the airplanes. “It was not a good position for him (Ford) to be in,” she said.
After he arrived, air traffic control instructed Ford to call the tower because of a “possible pilot deviation.”
Ford later called the tower and spoke to an air traffic control staff member, explaining why he had become distracted.
The staff member then asked Ford for his contact information and pilot’s license number so he could forward them to the FAA’s flight safety office for possible investigation.
“I understand,” Ford answered. “I totally understand.”
Ford, 74, who is famous for his roles in the “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones” movies, could face disciplinary action from the FAA. The possible penalties include reprimands, retraining or the suspension or loss of his pilot’s license.
Aviation safety experts have said that mistakenly landing on a taxiway is almost unheard of, and that there was no excuse for what could have turned into a disaster at John Wayne Airport.