Marine Pilot Receives Distinguished Flying Cross for Safely Landing After 2020 Mid-Air Collision with F-35

Distinguished Flying Cross ceremony at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar
U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Michael Wolff, a KC-130J Super Hercules pilot with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 352, Marine Aircraft Group 11, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW), receives the Distinguished Flying Cross from Maj. Gen. Bradford J. Gering, 3rd MAW commanding general, at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California, May 25, 2022. (Cpl. Rachaelanne Woodward/U.S. Marine Corps/TNS)

SAN DIEGO — The Marine Corps pilot who safely landed a KC-130J tanker in a California field after a mid-air collision with an F-35B in 2020 received the highest military aviation award Wednesday in San Diego, the Marines said in a news release.

Marine Capt. Michael Wolff, a KC-130J Super Hercules pilot, received the Distinguished Flying Cross at a ceremony at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, the Marines said, for landing “successfully after losing two engines in flight.”

Wolff landed the four-engine plane in a farmer’s field with the help of six crewmembers and a co-pilot, the Marine Corps said.

What the Marines’ news release doesn’t say is that Wolff lost those two engines due to a mid-air collision with a Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II jet while conducting refueling operations on Sept. 29, 2020. The pilot of the F-35 safely ejected before the jet crashed in the Imperial County desert. The four-engine KC-130, its two right-side engines heavily damaged in the collision, made an emergency landing in a field near the Salton Sea.

“I’m thankful how everything turned out. I’m happy to be alive,” Wolff said in a statement. “I still love flying, and I was happy to get up in the air as soon as I could afterwards. Everyone did their part and came together.”

The Miramar-based 3rd Marine Air Wing did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

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