The incident occurred during air-to-air refueling.
At approximately 16.00LT on Sept. 29, 2020, a U.S. Marine Corps F-35B and a KC-130J made contact during AAR (Air-to-Air Refueling) operations. As a consequence of the mid-air collision, the F-35B crashed while the KC-130J managed to perform a safe crash landing on a field near Thermal Airport, California.
The pilot of the STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variant of the Lightning II jet ejected safely and, according to the USMC, is being treated. All the KC-130J crew members have been reported safe.
#BREAKING A plane made an emergency landing in a farm field in Thermal just East if the airport. Early reports of 8 on board. It reportedly clipped another plane mid-air. We are live in scene wirh the early details. @KESQ pic.twitter.com/b4rDWJgoat
— Jake Ingrassia (@JakeKESQ) September 30, 2020
In the end, it went well. But mid-air collisions between tankers and receiver can have pretty serious results. As happened on Dec. 6, 2017, when a VMGR-152 KC-130J and an F/A-18D with the Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 242 (VMFA-242), both from Marine Aircraft Group 12 (MAG-12) stationed at MCAS Iwakuni, were involved in a collision during night AAR off the coast of Japan. Six U.S. Marines (including one of the two F/A-18D crew members) died in the mishap.
Yesterday crash is the fourth crash of an F-35. A U.S. Marine F-35B Lightning II crashed near Beaufort Marine Corps Air Station outside of Beaufort, South Carolina on the U.S. East Coast, on Sept. 28, 2018. The pilot safely ejected from the aircraft. In 2019, a Japanese F-35A crashed off the coast of Japan.
On Apr. 9, 2019 a F-35A Lightning II, serialled 79-8705, the first of 13 Japanese F-35s assembled at the Nagoya FACO (Final Assembly and Check-Out), crashed in the Pacific Ocean about 135km (84 miles) east of Misawa, in north-eastern Japan. Spatial disorientation was deemed as the reason for the crash that caused the death of the 41-year-old pilot Maj. Akinori Hosomi. More recently, a U.S. Air Force F-35A belonging to the 58th Fighter Squadron has crashed at Eglin AFB in Florida, on May 19, 2020. The pilot of the aircraft successfully ejected.
Update: you can watch the video of the F-35B crashing into the ground here.