US Military Plane Explodes in Midair Above Southern Kyrgyzstan
Friday, May 3, 2013 09:06 AM
BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan — A U.S. military refueling plane, which took off from a transit center used for the Afghanistan war effort, exploded in midair and crashed in southern Kyrgyzstan Friday, the Central Asian country's Emergencies Ministry said. U.S. officials declined to comment.
The plane, used for inflight refueling, disappeared from radar screens at 3.10 p.m. local time, as it flew near the Kyrgyz village of Chaldovar, the ministry said. The cause has not yet been determined.
The aircraft took off from the U.S. military transit center at Kyrgyzstan's international Manas airport, which U.S. forces maintain for operations in Afghanistan, the Interfax news agency reported.
"[The plane] caught fire in the air and crashed," said a ministry official responsible for the southern Kyrgyz province of Chuisk, where Chaldovar is located, some 60 kilometers (40 miles) from the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek.
Officials did not say where the plane was heading, and the U.S. transit center has declined to comment.
A civil aviation official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said storm clouds over the region could have caused the explosion, Interfax reported.
Kyrgyz Emergencies Minister Kubatbek Boronov told Russian state television there were between two and five crew members on board the Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker.
The ministry said witnesses saw the plane explode in the air, and a local government official said that debris was scattered over a 4 to 5 kilometer area in a nearby mountainous area.
"Everything that has burnt has been consumed, larger debris like the chassis is still burning," regional governmental official Kanat Davletov told Reuters. "[Rescue workers] on horseback have gone into the mountains to look for the crew while it is still light."
Manas, established as a military base in December 2001, is used to transport U.S. personnel in and out of Afghanistan and has been used by other international forces fighting in the country.
U.S. forces lease the facility for $60 million a year.
The contract for the transit center, located near the Manas international airport near the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek, will expire in July of next year, as Washington draws down its forces from Afghanistan.