BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan: A military plane crashed shortly after taking off from a United States airbase in Kyrgyzstan on Friday, officials said, though there were no immediate reports of any injuries.
“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 emergency situations ministry’s press secretary Abdisharip Bekilov said.
The refuelling plane took off from the US Manas airbase and crashed near the mountain village of Chaldovar, around 200 kilometres (125 miles) from the capital Bishkek and close to the border with Kazakhstan, the spokesman said.
The press secretary of the US transit centre, Akzhibek Beishebekova, told AFP that it was gathering information on the incident.
“We cannot confirm or deny the plane crash,” she said, adding that the number of people on board the plane was not known.
Witnesses described seeing an explosion mid-air and said the wreckage of the plane was still burning.
The Manas airbase is key to American military operations in Afghanistan, used to ferry troops into the country, refuel warplanes and evacuate wounded soldiers.
According to the emergency ministry’s preliminary information, the plane involved in the crash was a KC-135 Stratotanker plane that lost contact with the base as soon as it took off.
The flight left at 2:30 pm local time (0830 GMT), the press secretary of the ministry of transport and communications, Kylychbek Dosumbetov, told AFP, citing the country’s Civil Aviation Agency.
“At around 1455 Kyrgyz time (0855 GMT), a resident of one of the nearby villages said that a plane blew up in the air. On the wings of the plane he saw an American flag,” the interior ministry said in a statement.
A local official told AFP that the pilot apparently managed to escape from the plane before it crashed.
“The preliminary information is that the pilot jumped out with a parachute. They have gone to look for him,” the deputy district chief Anatoly Ivannikov said.
“No victims have been found at the site of the plane crash.”
The area around the plane was still burning, he said.
“The plane fell in the mountains. The area is taped off. We are not letting people approach, since the plane’s wheels are still burning.”
Witnesses told the Kyrgyz AKIPress news agency that they heard a buzz and then an explosion and that the plane was continuing to burn.
A local resident, Nurlan Derdenov, told local news website 24.kg that the plane “blew up in the air.”
“School children managed to film it on cell phones. When the plane fell, it hit a high-voltage power line.”