Last updated 10/22/2020 at 11:09am
A Marine Corps fighter jet collided in mid-air with another plane during an air-to-air refueling operation on Sept. 29 near the Salton Sea. The pilot of the F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter was ejected successfully, and the other aircraft, a Lockheed Martin KC-130J landed safely with no injuries.
The F-35B collided with the KC-130J tanker around 4 p.m., according to a statement from the Marine Corps Air Station Yuma in Arizona.
The jet pilot that was ejected safely from the aircraft is under medical treatment. The KC-130J made an emergency landing in Thermal, and the eight crew members on board the plane did not suffer any injuries. The KC-130J is on deck in the vicinity of Thermal Airport. The Marine Corps said the individuals went back to their respective units after receiving medical assessments.
According to U.S. Marine Corps 1st Lt. Brett Vannier, spokesman for Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, the collision occurred during a seven-week training event hosted by the Yuma-based Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One, which emphasizes operational integration of Marine Corps aviation in support of a Marine Air-Ground Task Force.
The F-35B was assigned to the 'Green Knights' of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121. The KC-130J that made an emergency landing is assigned to the "Raiders" of Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron (VMGR) 352.
Audio recordings were released online, revealing the conversation between the KC-130J pilot and air traffic control as the pilot made the emergency landing after the collision. Images revealed extensive damage to the KC-130J's engines on the right-wing and the remnants of a refueling pod.
The recordings also include the KC-130J pilot informing air traffic control that the tanker lost two engines after colliding with another aircraft, which was the F-35B.
"LA Center, LA Center – Raider 50 – declared an emergency. Mid-air collision with VOLT-93. We have two engines out. We're leaking fuel and might be on fire and an emergency descent at this time. Raider 50," the KC-130J pilot says in the recording.
After informing air traffic control that he had "partial control of the aircraft," the pilot trails off and stops answering air traffic control.
Another recording includes a separate conversation between air traffic control and an American Airlines pilot who saw flames from the incident.
"We're going to report that there was some sort of flares – some sort of pyrotechnic device – at our two o'clock position, less than 10 nautical miles, maybe five miles away, at an altitude of probably 25,000 feet," the pilot said.
The American Airlines pilot said he could also see a "plume" of smoke on the ground, presumably from where the F-35B crashed.
The crash is still under investigation.