The pilot of a military stealth fighter jet has parachuted to safety after colliding with an air tanker during a mid-air refueling operation near Imperial County, southern California.
An F-35B combat jet crashed near the Salton Sea on Tuesday afternoon after hitting a KC-130J tanker, forcing the aircraft to make an emergency landing.
All eight crew members onboard the tanker survived and are safe, while the pilot of the F-35 managed to eject successfully and is now being treated for his injuries.
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.
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
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 F-35B combat jet (stock image) was reported to have 'disintegrated' after crashing into the ground
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 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.
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