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U.S. Air Force Tanker Crashes In Kyrgyzstan

U.S. Air Force

A KC-135 Stratotanker sits on the flightline at Manas Air Base, Kyrgyzstan.

A U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker crashed Friday in northern Kyrgyzstan.

Reuters reports the plane was on its way to Afghanistan

The fate of the three-person crew is not known at this time, but 376th Air Expeditionary Wing officials say emergency response crews are on the scene.

Several witnesses said the plane exploded in midair, according to Reuters, with debris falling over a 4 to 5 kilometer area. The region where the debris fell is mountainous, and rescuers are on horseback scouring the area.

Kyrgyzstan ministry official Bolot Sharshenaliyev is quoted as saying:

"The chassis, the fuselage have all been extinguished and now we are searching for the crew members and the plane's black box."

The U.S. Air Force reports both the air tanker and its crew are based at the Transit Center at Manas near Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan's capital city.

According to the Associated Press, that base has created much controversy between the United States and Kyrgyzstan:

In 2009, the U.S. reached an agreement with the Kyrgyz government to use it in return for $60 million a year. But the lease runs out in June 2014 and the U.S. wants to keep it beyond that point to aid in the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.

The cause of the crash is now under investigation.

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