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KC-135 tanker crashes in Kyrgyzstan; fate of crew unknown

May. 3, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Wreckage from a U.S. Air Force KC-135 tanker aircraft wreckage is seen in a field near the village of Chaldovar, about 100 miles west of the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek, on May 3.
Wreckage from a U.S. Air Force KC-135 tanker aircraft wreckage is seen in a field near the village of Chaldovar, about 100 miles west of the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek, on May 3. (Vladimir Voronin / The Associated Press)
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Wreckage from an Air Force KC-135 tanker is strewn across a field near the village of Chaldovar, about 100 miles west of the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek, on May 3. (Vladimir Voronin / The Associated Press)

An Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker flying out of Manas Transit Center crashed in northern Kyrgyzstan today, and the status of the three crewmembers is unknown and the search for them was suspended as darkness fell. Cargo planes do not have ejector seats.

The transit center, located at the Manas international airport, is a key base from which Air Force refueling and mobility crews fly missions to and from Afghanistan. The cause of the crash is under investigation, the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing said in a statement.

The aircraft reportedly broke into three pieces when it crashed in an uninhabited area about 100 miles west of the base, according to the Associated Press. Russian state media Interfax reported the plane lost contact with the control tower at 2:45 p.m. local time.

This is the third crash of a U.S.-based plane in the region in the last week, following two crashes in Afghanistan. An MC-12 Liberty surveillance plane crashed April 27 near Kandahar Airfield, killing crewmembers Capt. Brandon Cyr, Capt. Reid Nishizuka, Staff Sgt. Richard Dickson and Staff Sgt. Daniel Fannin. On April 29, a Boeing 747 belonging to National Air Cargo crashed on takeoff out of Bagram Airfield, killing seven crewmembers.

The Air Forceís fleet of 414 KC-135s, most of which are flown by the Air National Guard, is one of the Air Forceís oldest with an average age of more than 50 years, but still maintain a mission readiness level of about 80 percent, according to Air Force statistics.

The service is continuing to upgrade the fleet, spending about $160 million to replace components of the jetís F-108 engines with the goal of replacing the engines in all of the fleet over the next 12 years. The jet is slated to be replaced once the next-generation KC-46A is delivered.

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