On Tuesday, Sept. 29, a U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II fighter jet and a KC-130J Hercules tanker-transport made contact in mid-air during refueling operations.
As a result of the contact, both planes were forced to the ground.
The KC-130J performed a safe emergency landing in a field near Thermal Airport in Imperial County, California.
The F-35B, however, was not so lucky as the pilot was forced to eject before his jet crashed to the ground in a fiery explosion.
Audio of the incident was posted on the LiveATC forum and transcribed by The War Zone.
The KC-130J, which belongs to VMGR-352 “Raiders” based at nearby MCAS Miramar, was flying under the callsign RAIDER 50. In the recording, RAIDER 50’s crew requested to LA Center to fly into the high altitude block of the Kane West MOA, which sits mainly on the west side of the Sulton Sea, but also crosses over it at its midpoint. The MOA was active at the time, but the KC-130J crew was aware of the other traffic. They were cleared to enter into it at 17,000 feet.
Next, we hear LA Center reply to American Airlines Flight 237 that saw some sort of explosion on the ground near where it was flying over. Immediately after we hear RAIDER 50 declare an emergency:
“LA Center LA Center, RAIDER 50 declaring an emergency, midair collision with VOLT 93. We have two engines out, we’re leaking fuel, and likely on fire, and in emergency descent at this time. RAIDER 50.”
The controller at LA Center then tries to confirm the KC-130 is in the Kane West MOA and asks to clarify if they are indeed “going down now.” RAIDER 50 comes back on frequency back and states:
“We declare an emergency. We still have partial control of the aircraft. Two engines out. We are aiming towards uh…”
RAIDER 50 then cuts out and the controller asks for clarification if they are heading towards NAF El Centro or the airport at nearby Imperial, both of which are located to the south of Kane West MOA. The controller tries to raise them again, but there is no response.
There is also now footage of the F-35B crashing into the desert floor near the Salton Sea in California.
Luckily, all of the crew members of the KC-130J were reported safe, while the pilot of the F-35B “ejected successfully and is currently being treated,” according to a statement from Marine Corps Air Station Yuma in Yuma, Arizona following the incident.
A USMC F-35B made contact with a KC-130J during air-to-air refuelling, resulting in the crash of the F-35B. The pilot ejected successfully. pic.twitter.com/LL9e2ty6OZ
— Martin-Baker (@MB_EjectEject) September 30, 2020
The official cause of the crash is under investigation.