(UPDATES) Air Force ‘Stratotanker’ Crashes in Kyrgyzstan

KC-135 F-16

UPDATE IV:

The Stars and Stripes has published additional details on the three Air Force crew members who were killed Friday in the crash of the KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft in the rugged mountains of Kyrgyzstan. The Stripes also provided different hometowns for two of the three crew members than were provided yesterday by DOD (marked with an asterisk*)

Capt. Mark Tyler Voss, 27, of Boerne, Texas*

Voss was a 2008 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., where he majored in aeronautical engineering, according to information on Fairchild’s Facebook page. He graduated from pilot training at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, in 2010 and was promoted to captain one year ago. He is survived by his parents, a brother and sister.

Capt. Victoria “Tori” Ann Pinckney, 27, of Colorado Springs, Colo.*

Pinckney, also a 2008 Air Force Academy graduate, was a new mother with a black belt in karate. She is survived by her husband, Richard Pinckney; 7-month-old son, Gabriel; her parents and two sisters.

Tech. Sgt. Herman “Tre” Mackey III, 30, of Bakersfield, Calif.

Mackey was “the guy who always made a grand entrance and would light up the room with his humor and a smile,” says his wife, Megan, according to Fairchild’s Facebook page. Mackey is also survived by a daughter, Payton; his mother; three sisters and two brothers.

UPDATE III:

The Department of Defense announced today the names of the three airmen who died May 3, near Chon-Aryk, Kyrgyzstan, in the crash of the KC-135 aircraft.

The airmen were assigned to the 93rd Air Refueling Squadron, Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash.:

— Capt. Mark T. Voss, 27, of Colorado Springs, Colo.,

— Capt. Victoria A. Pinckney, 27, of Palmdale, Calif., and

— Tech Sgt. Herman Mackey III, 30, of Bakersfield, Calif.

Our condolences go out to the families of these heroes.

UPDATE II:

The Stars and Stripes reports that search teams have found the “fragmented” bodies of two American crew members near where the KC-135 Stratotanker crashed in the rugged mountains of Kyrgyzstan, while the third crew member was still missing, according to the emergencies minister of Kyrgyzstan. The two bodies have not yet been identified.

The search goes on for the third crew member and for the flight recorders.

The Stripes adds:

Parts of the plane were scattered across a wide area near the village of Chaldovar. Some pieces, including the tail, came down on a grassy field bordered by mountains, but others landed in spots more difficult for search teams to reach.

One resident of the agricultural and sheep-grazing area, Sherikbek Turusbekov, told an AP reporter at the site on Friday that the plane exploded in flight and split into three pieces as it fell.

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UPDATE I:

From the BBC:

A search is under way for the three crew of a US military refuelling plane that crashed in northern Kyrgyzstan.

The KC-135 Stratotanker disappeared off the radar near Chaldovar village, some 160km (100 miles) west of the base near Bishkek from where it took off.

Witnesses said they saw the plane, believed to have been laden with fuel at the time, explode in mid-air.

The wreckage is scattered across a wide area. US officials said: “The status of the crew is unknown”.

Kyrgyz media quoted some witnesses as saying they saw at least one pilot escape the burning plane – one report said by ejector seat – but these accounts have not been substantiated.

[::]

The scene of the crash was being guarded overnight, and officials said a search for the missing crew members would resume in the morning.

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From Reuters:

A U.S. military refueling plane on its way to Afghanistan exploded in mid air and crashed in Kyrgyzstan on Friday when its cargo of fuel ignited, the Central Asian country’s Emergencies Ministry said.

The aircraft took off from the U.S. military transit center at Kyrgyzstan’s international Manas airport, which U.S. forces maintain for operations in Afghanistan, with around 70 metric tons of fuel on board, a local ministry official said.

The plane, used for inflight refueling, disappeared from radar screens at 3:10 p.m. as it flew near the Kyrgyz village of Chaldovar, the ministry said. The three person crew was unaccounted for, it said.

The ministry said witnesses saw the plane explode in the air, and a local government official said debris was scattered over a 4 to 5 km area in a nearby mountainous area.

[::]

A Kyrgyz civil aviation official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said storm clouds over the region could have caused the explosion, Interfax reported.

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Original Post:

The Department of Defense has announced that a U.S. Air Force KC-135 tanker aircraft based at Wichita’s McConnell Air Force Base crashed today in the rugged mountains of northern Kyrgyzstan.

While DOD reports that emergency response crews are on the scene, and the crew’s status is unknown, the Wichita Eagle reports that U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young said the Air Force told him all three crew members aboard were killed, according to a report in the Tampa Bay Times. However, the Eagle notes, “A spokesman for the Transit Center at Manas, the name of the U.S. base in Kyrgyzstan, said the status of the crew was unknown.” Manas is a key U.S. base for supporting the war in Afghanistan.

The KC-135 Stratotanker has provided the Air Force’s core aerial refueling capability for more than 50 years. It provides aerial refueling support to Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and allied nation aircraft, and also is capable of aeromedical evacuation, transporting litter and ambulatory patients using patient support pallets, according to DOD.

More from the Wichita Eagle:

The plane crashed at 2:55 p.m. (Kyrgyzstan time), near Chaldovar, a village 100 miles west of the Manas base outside the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek. Pieces of the plane, including its tail, were scattered across in a grassy field bordered by mountains; the air was infused with the heavy stench of fuel.

The plane was on a refueling mission for Afghanistan war operations at the time of the crash, a U.S. defense official in Washington said, speaking anonymously because he was not authorized to discuss the details of an ongoing investigation.

The front section of the aircraft has not yet been found, Kyrgyz Emergencies Minister Kubatbek Boronov told The Associated Press. He said searchers also have not found the flight recorders from the plane, which was badly burned in the crash.

The search for the crew will resume Saturday morning and the crash site will remain under guard, Boronov said.

This is third crash in the region of an aircraft supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

Last week, a coalition MC-12 Liberty aircraft crashed in Zabul province, southern Afghanistan killing four U.S. Air Force service members.

On Monday, seven Americans were killed when their National Air Cargo Boeing 747-400 crashed shortly after takeoff from Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan.

The Stars and Stripes reports previous and recent accidents:

On April 3, an F-16 fighter-bomber crashed about 10 miles south of the Bagram Air Field runway. The pilot was killed.

In March, two helicopters crashed within a week. The pilot of an OH-58 Kiowa helicopter died when the chopper crashed in Kandahar province. A Black Hawk crashed outside Kandahar city, killing five U.S. servicemembers.

In February, a U.S. helicopter crashed in eastern Kapisa province. Coalition officials said no one was seriously injured in that incident.

Image KC-135 Stratotanker refueling an F-16 Fighting Falcon, courtesy DOD

Author: DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

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