On Sept. 29, 2020, at approximately 16.00LT a U.S. Marine Corps F-35B and a KC-130J Super Hercules tanker collided during AAR (Air-to-Air Refueling) operations. The F-35B pilot successfully ejected from the Lightning II (and the video of the jet crashing into the desert near Coachella Valley, California, made the rounds), while the KC-130J pilot managed to perform a safe crash landing on a field near Thermal Airport, California.
The latter, belonging to Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron (VMGR) 352 “Raiders” and flying as RAIDER 50, was involved in a refueling mission with the F-35B, callsign VOLT 93, with theMarine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121 “Green Knights”, were taking part in Weapons and Tactics Instructor (WTI) course 1-21, a seven-week training event that aims at improving operational integration of Marine Corps aviation in support of a Marine Air-Ground Task Force.
The KC-130J pilot managed to carry out a successful crash landing despite extensive damage to the engines on the right-wing and the refueling pod, saving the life of all the crew members who assisted him during the emergency. For his life saving action, that pilot, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania native Capt. Michael Wolff, received the Distinguished Flying Cross from Maj. Gen. Bradford J. Gering, 3rd MAW commanding general, the U.S. Marine Corps said in a public statement.
The pretty intense audio of the incident was posted by a user at the LiveATC forum.
The Distinguished Flying Cross is the highest award in flying and the fourth highest award for bravery; awarded for heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight.
“I’m thankful how everything turned out. I’m happy to be alive” said Wolff, “I still love flying, and I was happy to get up in the air as soon as I could afterwards” Wolff also stated that “everyone did their part and came together”.