SAN DIEGO, Calif. (KGTV) - A Marine Corps pilot is being honored after safely landing a KC-130J airplane that had collided with an F-35 mid-air on September 29, 2020.
Major Cory Jones was piloting the airplane and recounted what he remembers from that day.
“There’s a lot that went wrong that day and there’s a lot that went right that day,” said Jones.
His aircraft was headquartered out of Marine Air Corps Station Miramar and tasked with conducting aerial refueling in support of a weapons and tactics instructor course in Yuma, AZ. They successfully refueled one aircraft, then the crash happened.
There was barely more than one second between hearing the call that the planes would collide, and them actually hitting each other.
“There was no time to comprehend what was going on or react but I do remember the immediate thought was I can’t believe this is happening to me,” he said.
He said the force of the hit knocked the controls out of his hand, but he quickly realized the plane was not going down and there was still time to act.
“When I looked back up, grabbed the controls and started moving them and realized the airplane was actually flying, that was the shock moment like okay maybe we’ve got a chance here, we can do something,” he said.
He said he thought about his peers who had recently been killed in airplane crashes and also his family at home. This was his first flight back from paternity leave and his son was just 19 days old at the time.
“My family was definitely on my mind, the crews that had been lost before and my son and my wife, but it immediately transitioned from those thoughts to okay we’ve gotta get this plane on the ground,” he said.
He was one of eight people on the plane, but there were only five parachutes, so they had to figure out how to land the plane. They spent 12 minutes in the air after the crash, before landing in a farmer's field near Thermal, CA. Everyone was safe.
“We all had a job to do. Nobody quit, nobody quit, nobody froze up clammed up. Everybody remained focused on what they had to do because we all knew it was going to take a team effort to safely get that aircraft on the deck,” he said.
Nearly a year and a half after the crash, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross medal.
His second child is due in May and he said reflecting back, he’s thankful to be alive.
“To be able to walk away definitely makes you appreciate the little things in life and every day that you have,” he said.
He said that after recovering the plane, they removed the tail and now have it displayed in front of their squadron at Marine Air Corps Station Miramar.