Video footage has emerged showing the moment a F-35 stealth fighter jet fell out of the sky and exploded on the ground after hitting a tanker in a mid-air collision.
The US Marine Corps aircraft crashed near the Salton Sea in Imperial County, California on Tuesday afternoon after accidentally clipping a KC-130J during a refueling operation.
A video clip posted on Aviation Daily shows the $100million combat jet exploding into a massive fireball upon impact shortly after the pilot managed to parachute to safety.
The aircraft is seen rapidly plummeting hundreds of feet before smashing into a a ball of flames in a remote field.
Bystander footage shows the F-35 fighter jet rapidly falling from the sky in Imperial County, California after colliding with a tanker on Tuesday
The $100million aircraft crashes into a remote field before bursting into a ball of flames
A F-35B fighter jet (circled in stock image) crashed near the Salton Sea in southern California on Tuesday afternoon after colliding with a KC-130J tanker during a refueling (pictured) operation
A witness who took the video can be heard in the background saying: ‘Oh my God! You guys!’ as she diverts her friends’ attention to the sky.
The group was far enough to be safe from the impact, but still managed to get a clear view of the explosion.
The USMC on Tuesday confirmed the pilot survived after ejecting safely and was being treated for his injuries.
Meanwhile, the tanker was able to make a safe emergency landing at a nearby field by Thermal Airport. All eight crew members escaped unharmed.
Earlier, alarming audio revealed how the KC-130J crew reported having ‘two engines out… we’re leaking fuel, and likely on fire.’
The tanker declared a mid-air emergency to LA flight controllers who asked them to confirm that they were ‘going down now’ after a refueling operation went wrong.
The tanker (pictured on Tuesday) was forced to make an emergency landing in a field near Thermal, California, just east of the airport. All eight crew members on board were unharmed
The audio recording posted on LiveATC reveals how the tanker, flying with the callsign RAIDER 50, raised the alarm with the Los Angeles Air Route Traffic Control Center in Palmdale, California.
‘LA Center, LA Center, RAIDER 50 declaring an emergency, midair collision with VOLT 93,’ the transmission said.
‘We have two engines out, we’re leaking fuel, and likely on fire, and in emergency descent at this time. RAIDER 50.’
Responding to the emergency, a controller asked the crew to confirm their military operations area, adding: ‘You said you were going down now?’
The RAIDER crew replied: ‘We declare an emergency. We still have partial control of the aircraft. Two engines out. We are aiming towards, uh’ – before the transmission from the the tanker cuts out.
The LA controllers then try to make contact again, while another voice reports a ‘plume of black smoke’ from the time that the emergency was reported.
The F-35B combat jet (stock image) was reported to have ‘disintegrated’ after crashing into the ground
Another person says that the impact was ‘prior to his last transmission’, suggesting the smoke was not from the moment the tanker hit a field.
LA Center then appears to re-establish contact with the RAIDER before the tanker comes to ground, although its crew could not be heard before the recording cut out.
The US Marine Corps confirmed the collision occurred during a refueling operation, during which a tanker transfers fuel to a receiver mid air, allowing it to remain airborne for a longer period of time.
At around 4pm local time, ‘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,’ The USMC said in a statement.
‘The KC-130J is on deck in the vicinity of Thermal Airport. All crew members of the KC-130J have been reported safe. The official cause of the crash is currently under investigation.’
Details on the pilot’s condition and the extent of his injuries were not immediately released.
Eye witnesses took to Twitter to report seeing the pilot parachuting out of the fighter jet before hitting the ground.
Footage shared on social media showed the jet bursting into flames upon impact
The KC-130J was able to make an emergency landing in a field near the Jacqueline Cochran Regional Airport in Thermal, California
One user described the F-35 fighter aircraft as being ‘fully engulfed’ in flames by the time it impacted the ground.
First responders on the ground also reported that the jet ‘disintegrated’ after bursting into flames.
A Blackhawk helicopter was deployed to the scene in search of survivors, according to reports.
The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II
The family of American-made stealth fighter jets has three different variants within the US military.
F-35A (US AIR FORCE)
The F-35A was officially introduced into the US Air Force in 2016.
It is the smallest of the three types and uses conventional takeoff and landing methods.
F-35B (US MARINE CORPS)
The F-35B was brought into service by the USMC in July 2015.
It uses short take-off and vertical landing and does not have a landing hook.
F-35C (US NAVY)
The F-35C entered service with US Navy in 2019.
Its wings are larger than that of the F-35A and it is designed for catalpult-assisted takeoff.
Meanwhile, the KC-130, used to transport military equipment including helicopters, landed safely in a field near the Jacqueline Cochran Regional Airport in Thermal, California.
Both aircraft were stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego, an official said.
Imperial County is located about two hours drive east of San Diego.
The family of Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II stealth multirole combat jets, one oft the most expensive in the world, have been plagued with issues and have suffered multiple crashes over the years.
Most recently in May, an Air Force F-35A belonging to the 58th Fighter Squadron crashed while landing at the Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. The pilot survived after ejecting safely.
Almost exactly two years ago on September 28, 2018, an F-35B crashed outside the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina. The pilot, again, managed to eject safely.
The cause of the accident was determined to be from a faulty fuel tube, prompting officials to ground all F-35s to inspect the fleet on October 11. They were returned to flight status the following day.
In April 2019, a Japanese F-35A from the Misawa air base crashed off the coast of Japan during a training operation.
The pilot, Major Akinori Hosomi, had disappeared during the mission and was later found to had crashed in the Pacific Ocean.
The F-35s were first introduced to the US Military in 2015, with the first F-35B entering the US Marine Corp in July that year.
The aircraft has three different variants, including the F-35A, used by the US Air Force, that uses conventional takeoff and landing, the F-35B, which has a short take-off and vertical landing, and the F-35C, used by the US Navy, that is designed for catalpult-assisted takeoff.
The F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter jet: How one of the world’s most expensive weapon systems has been plagued with problems
The F-35 family of stealth fighters have been plagued with problems and have suffered a number of crashes over the years.
In September 2018, an F-35B crashed outside the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina, due to a faulty fuel tube. The pilot of the aircraft managed to eject safely.
The accident prompted officials to ground all F-35s to inspect the fleet on October 11, before returning them to flight status the following day.
In April 2019, a Japanese F-35A from the Misawa air base crashed off the coast of Japan.
Pilot Major Akinori Hosomi had disappeared during a training mission and was later found to had crashed in the Pacific Ocean.
In May of this year, a US Air Force F-35A crashed while landing at the Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.
The F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, a ‘fifth generation’ fighter aircraft, has been considered one of the world’s most expensive weapons system, though costs have finally stabilized at an eye-watering $406billion.
There have also been embarrassing reports of operational shortcomings emerging in the US.
In a mock air battle in 2015, the cutting edge plane was defeated by an older generation F-16, a plane designed in the 1970s.
In 2017, the Pentagon tests found 276 different faults in jet’s combat system.
They included the 25mm cannon vibrating excessively and problems with the he aircraft’s ‘virtual reality’ helmet
Overheating, premature wear of components in the vertical tails and vulnerability to fire were also found to be issues.
The US Air Force temporarily grounded dozens its F-35 stealth fighters while it investigated an oxygen supply issue.
The Marine Corps was forced to ground its planes after flaws were found in the computer system.