- On Tuesday, an F-35B reportedly collided with a Marine Corps KC-130 aerial refueling tanker over Southern California.
- All crew members from the tanker and fighter jet are in good condition and accounted for.
- The location of the F-35B, however, is unknown at this time.
A practice midair refueling exercise on Tuesday ended with a Marine Corps KC-130 aerial refueling tanker sitting in a plowed field ... and a $120 million F-35B Joint Strike Fighter unaccounted for.
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The two planes reportedly collided in the skies over Southern California, with the tanker crew making an emergency landing in an agricultural area. The fate and location of the F-35B is unknown at this time, but a video posted on social media purports to show the moment it crashed.
The incident took place at approximately 4 p.m. local time. In a statement released on its website, Marine Corps Air Station Yuma reported that the planes “made contact.”
MCAS Yuma said the KC-130 was on the ground near the airport at Thermal, California, and all crew members were safe. A KC-130J configured for aerial refueling operations typically carries a crew of four, according to Lockheed Martin, the plane's manufacturer.
Here's a video that shows just how close the two planes can get during aerial refueling:
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MCAS Yuma reported the pilot of the F-35B successfully ejected from his stricken aircraft, which is presumed to have gone down somewhere in Riverside County.
Photos on social media show the KC-130 sitting in a farmer’s field with propellers on both of the starboard engines destroyed, and what looks like fuel pouring out of the port side wing.
The fate of the F-35B is unknown, and the Marine Corps hasn't released the location of the aircraft crash. The Marines are likely being secretive about the crash for two reasons.
For starters, the advanced composite materials that make up the up F-35 are hazardous to human health. In 2018, after a F-35B crashed in South Carolina, the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort warned the public to steer clear of the crash site, stating that carbon fiber particles could cause mild illness:
These particles should fully dissipate over the next few days. Although the risk of exposure is low, children and the elderly as well as those with compromised immune systems may have a higher risk of experiencing symptoms. Inhaling carbon fibers may cause breathing difficulties and symptoms similar to the common cold. If you think you are experiencing symptoms, please immediately seek medical attention.
The Marines are also likely keeping the location under wraps to ward of spies and souvenir seekers. There are now several thousand pieces of the world’s most advanced jet fighter sprinkled across the ground in Southern California, many of which could give clues to the technical aspects and manufacturing techniques used to build the F-35.
There are also plenty of well-meaning civilians out there that may want a piece of a F-35 fighter, not realizing it could be crucial to the inevitable accident investigation.
One user shared the purported video of the F-35B crash on Instagram, seen above. Popular Mechanics has not determined the authenticity of the video, but it appears genuine.
According to MCAS Yuma, “the official cause of the crash is currently under investigation. Updates will be provided as information becomes available.”