Witness video captured the $100M aircraft smashing into the desert.
Several military air crew were lucky to escape with their lives on Tuesday after a mid-air collision near Coachella.
The US Marine Corps confirmed that an F-35 fighter jet clipped a KC-130 tanker while it was attempting to refuel in the skies above the Salton Sea in Southern California.
Witnesses on the ground captured the moment the $100M Lockheed Martin combat aircraft plummeted from the sky and smashed into the desert in a spectacular fireball, just moments after the single pilot managed to eject to safety.
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The cargo plane meanwhile was forced to perform an emergency landing in a field near Thermal Airport. Witnesses there reported the aircraft missing two propellers from one wing, while it was leaking fuel.
All eight crew members aboard the tanker escaped unharmed.
Marine Corps spokesperson Capt. Joseph Butterfield told USNI News that at around 4 PM, "it was reported that 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 KC-130J is on deck in the vicinity of Thermal Airport. All crew members of the KC-130J have been reported safe."
In December 2018, six US Marines were killed when a fighter collided with a refueler off the coast of Japan.
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