What does it take to earn the Distinguished Flying Cross? Wrestling a disabled KC-130J Hercules tanker for a traumatic 12 minutes to make an emergency landing in a California field has now proven to be one way. The two U.S. Marine pilots who did just that on September 29, 2020, following a mid-air collision with an F-35B fighter have now both been awarded the DFC. Remarkably, all aboard both aircraft survived the mishap.
The ATC recordings capture the situation shortly after the midair with the F35 during refueling operations. “LA Center, LA Center — Raider 50 — declare an emergency,” Wolff told ATC, adding, “Mid-air collision with VOLT-93. We have two engines out. We’re leaking fuel and might be on fire and an emergency descent at this time. Raider 50,”
In a collision violent enough to knock the headsets off each crewmember’s head, damage to the Hercules was severe, with the two right-side engines completely disabled after shedding all their propeller blades, not to mention damage to the fuselage and fuel tanks. To make matters worse, the crew had only five parachutes for eight souls on board, so commitment to a crash landing was made when the Thermal airport proved unreachable. Maj. Jones stated on video that the Herc suffered “multiple system failures” and that it “made an uncontrolled right turn” after dipping “below our minimum control airspeed” as they tried to reach the airport.
By that time, the pilot of the F-35B had safely ejected, and video of the unoccupied jet’s crash into the desert floor has since surfaced on social media. No one on the ground was injured.
Captain Michael Wolff received the award in a ceremony on May 25, 2022. Wolff and his crewmate, Marine Maj. Cory T. Jones, carefully assessed options before electing to land in a field not far from Thermal, California after, the collision. Maj. Jones received the award in an earlier ceremony, on February 28, 2022.
F-35B Crashing Ground After Mid-Air Collision With KC-130J pic.twitter.com/dPBdVjokJ9
— vladvlad (@vladwlad777) September 30, 2020