U.S. Military Jet Crashes In Kyrgyzstan
A U.S. Air Force refueling jet has crashed in Kyrgyzstan near the Manas air base, according to Kyrgyzstan's Ministry of Emergency Situations (MChS).
The plane exploded in mid-air, said a local official, reports Kloop.kg: "The former mayor of the Panfilov region Taalaybek Sydykov said in an interview with Kloop.kg, that... 'Residents of the region who were working in the fields say that there was an explosion in the air and the plane fell behind the mountains.'" A couple of twitter users reported the same.
An MChS official told AFP that the plane, apparently KC-135 Stratotanker, crashed after taking off:
"According to my information, the plane broke up into three pieces. Information on the dead or wounded is being clarified. All the rescue services have gone to the scene," the ministry's press secretary Abdisharip Bekilov said.
The plane crashed near the mountain village of Chaldybar, around 200 kilometres from the capital Bishkek and close to the border with Kazakhstan, the emergency ministry spokesman said.
Information about who may have been on board is still sketchy, but CA-News reports, citing MChS sources, that there were five crew members on the flight.
The last crash of a KC-135 seems to have been in 1991.
So far there is no word from the U.S. military officials at Manas.
UPDATE: The U.S. Air Force has issued a statement:
A U.S. Air Force KC-135 tanker aircraft crashed today in northern Kyrgyzstan. Emergency response crews are on scene. The status of the three crew members is unknown.
The crew and aircraft are assigned to the Transit Center at Manas near Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
The cause of the crash is under investigation.
Kloop.kg has a very useful page that they continuously update with new information, if you read Russian. Even if you don't, they have a number of photos of the crash site.
Aviation blogger David Cenciotti notes that the Air Force removed ejection seats and parachutes from the KC-135:
Although it’s too early to say ejection seats or chutes may have saved the crew, we can’t but notice that the KC-135 has no ejection seats.
Actually, there is an escape hatch on the KC-135 but chutes were removed from the Stratotankers, bacause:
“KC-135s are not like other aircraft. They seldom have mishaps, and the likelihood a KC-135 crew member would ever need to use a parachute is extremely low,” according to an article published on the Air Force website.
Though one commenter says that the parachutes are added back again when the aircraft are deployed overseas. And some eyewitnesses reported seeing parachutes.
Joshua Kucera is the Turkey/Caucasus editor at Eurasianet, and author of The Bug Pit.
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