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Fate Of KC-135 Stratotanker Crew Unknown After Fiery Crash

Staff Sgt. Paul Clifford
US Air Force

The fate of the three crew members on board a crashed Air Force tanker is unknown as of Friday afternoon PDT. It's now night time in Kyrgyzstan where the Boeing-built K-C-135 tanker plane went down. Many airmen from Fairchild Air Force Base outside Spokane are deployed to the airfield in Central Asia where the plane took off.

The Associated Press quoted a farmer near the crash scene in rural Kyrgyzstan who said he heard an explosion in the sky. The witness said he looked up and saw fire as the falling jet broke apart in mid-air.

The KC-135 Stratotanker is a four-engine jet built by Boeing. These do not have ejector seats.

Markings on the wreckage reveal the ill-fated plane belonged to a unit at McConnell AFB in Kansas, but the crew could have come from another base including the one near Spokane.

In recent months, around 130-150 airmen at a time from Fairchild have been deployed to the Manas airfield near the Kyrgyz capital. That includes support crews and pilots. The mid-air refueling tankers stationed in Kyrgyzstan typically fly in circles high above nearby Afghanistan. Then fighter aircraft, bombers and reconnaissance planes come up to them for gas between sorties.

On the Web:

Factsheet: KC-135 Stratotanker - US Air Force 

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.