Military aircraft collision near Salton Sea stemmed from training mission

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THERMAL (CNS) – A midair collision involving a fighter jet and a military refueling aircraft during a refueling operation in the eastern Coachella Valley occurred during a training exercise that injured some crew members, military officials said Wednesday.

A Lockheed Martin KC-130 and Lockheed Martin F-35 “made contact” at about 4 p.m. Tuesday at an unspecified location near Thermal, according to U.S. Marine Corps 1st Lt. Brett Vannier, spokesman for Marine Corps Air Station Yuma in Yuma, Arizona.

According to Vannier, the collision occurred during a seven-week training event hosted by the Yuma-based Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One.

The KC-130J made a forced landing in a field near the intersection of Avenue 59 and Polk Street in Thermal, according to the Riverside County Department of Transportation.

The pilot of the F-35B “ejected successfully,” Vannier said. The plane subsequently crashed somewhere near the Salton Sea, according to published media reports.

Vannier said minor injuries were reported, but that all the crew members were safe. He would not comment on how many crew members were injured, nor which aircraft the injuries stemmed from.

The KC-130J remained parked in the Thermal field as of noon Wednesday, according to Noelle Flores, a customer service supervisor at the Jacqueline Cochran Regional Airport in Thermal, which is near the crash site.

“From what I heard, two of the propellers were gone and the plane was gushing out fuel,” Flores told City News Service.

Military personnel did not comment on the condition of the aircraft nor how long it was expected to remain in the field.

The cause of the crash is under investigation, Vannier said.