A US Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II crashed after the pilot ejected, following a collision with a Marine KC-130J Hercules tanker during refueling in a military operations area (MOA) near the Naval Air Facility El Centro in California. The KC-130J landed in a field near the Jacqueline Cochran Airport in Thermal (KTRM), with the eight crewmembers on board reportedly safe and accounted for.
“It was reported that an F-35B made contact with a KC-130J during an air-to-air refueling evolution, resulting in the crash of the F-35B. The pilot of the F-35B ejected successfully and is currently being treated,” said Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Joseph Butterfield in a statement to USNI News.
In an audio transcript of the event, Raider 50 (the KC-130J’s call sign) came back onto LA Center—after being handed off around 4 pm local time to operate within the Kane West MOA—in order to declare an emergency following the collision: “LA Center, Raider Five-Zero declaring an emergency, mid-air collision…we have two engines out, we’re leaking fuel, and might be on fire. We’re in an emergency descent at this time.” The crew had partial control of the aircraft and was headed for the Thermal airport. The number 3 and 4 engines had been impacted in the collision in some manner.
According to a statement from the Marine Corps, “the official cause of the crash is currently under investigation. Updates will be provided as information becomes available.”