Distinguished Flying

Even though the Navy awarded him one of the military’s highest honors, for Maj. Cory Jones ’06, surviving a midair collision and helping lead his crew to a safe emergency landing is reward enough.

“Honestly, being alive is all I needed and wanted,” said Jones, a Marine Corps KC-130J Super Hercules pilot at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point.

Jones received the Distinguished Flying Cross for safely landing his aircraft after it collided with another plane during refueling training Sept. 29, 2020, in California. He was also named the 2022 Military Times Marine of the Year.

A native of Cornelius, Jones came to ECU after attending community college.

Marine Corps Maj. Cory Jones ’06 received the Distinguished Flying Cross for safely landing a KC-130J tanker after it collided with an F-35 fighter aircraft in 2020 over southern California.

“The fitness facility and campus in general won me over when I visited the campus prior to being accepted,” he said. “Cubbie’s burgers were a plus! … Football season was always a fun time. The tailgates and pregame festivities were always a blast and something to look forward to each Saturday.”

He graduated thinking he would become a strength and conditioning coach. An admitted adrenaline junkie, he turned to a career as a Marine Corps pilot.

But in the seconds after the collision, as warning alarms sounded and two of the aircraft’s four engines failed, Jones maintained focus.

“It is one of those things where you just do what you’re trained to do,” Jones said. “I was in shock at first and thought the plane would not be controllable, but as soon as I realized the plane was flyable, (we) went to work to get the plane on the ground. … I can honestly say that I think each person on the crew was meant to be there that day, and everyone played a vital role.”

He belly-landed the plane in a California field, and he and the crew escaped. His reaction?

“Stunned. Absolutely in shock at what had just happened,” he said. “Myself and the other pilot (Capt. Michael Wolff, who also received the Distinguished Flying Cross) looked at each other in disbelief, and once out of the aircraft, we all shook hands and thanked each other for their work in getting the plane down. It was emotional, to say the least.”

Married to wife Lori and with two children, son Eli and daughter Maddie, Jones credits his crew and appreciates his purpose.

“I have often said that things happen for a reason, and while we don’t always understand why, there is a reason,” he said. “I believe that was the case for this event, and I still don’t know why I was put there, but I would like to ensure that whatever the reason, I don’t waste it. I have always been a religious person, and while a lot of people always ask about how my training or my skill made this successful, I always say it wasn’t me. Reading the mishap report and understanding the situation, there are circumstances that can’t be explained by skill or luck, and I thank God each day that I walked away from this.”