F-35B landing
An F-35B landing at Yuma. Marine Corps photo

A fighter jet and a tanker collided midair during a refueling operation Tuesday afternoon in the eastern Coachella Valley, resulting in the pilot of the fighter jet parachuting to safety and the other plane making a forced landing.

A KC-130J tanker and F-35B stealth fighter “made contact” about 4 p.m. at a unspecified location near Thermal, according to Marine Corps 1st Lt. Brett Vannier, spokesman for Marine Corps Air Station Yuma.

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

The occupants of that aircraft were all reported safe, Vannier said, although it was unclear if the aircraft was suitable for flying.

The county agency reported that 59th Avenue between Polk and Fillmore streets was closed while emergency crews worked the scene.

Vannier said the pilot of the F-35B “ejected successfully and is currently being treated,” although the extent of the pilot’s injuries, if any, was not provided.

According to published media reports, the jet crashed near Salton City, causing some fires on impact. Firefighters from the Imperial County Fire Department extinguished the blazes, according to the reports, although the fire department could not immediately be reached for comment.

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

— City News Service

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.