An American military tanker refuelling plane carrying three crew members crashed on Friday in the rugged mountains of Kyrgyzstan, the Central Asian nation where the U.S. operates an air base key to the war in Afghanistan.

There was no immediate word on the fate of the crew. If any of them managed to eject from the KC-135 plane, the search for them would be complicated by the harsh terrain in the region.

The U.S. base in Kyrgyzstan, called the Transit Center at Manas, said it had no immediate information on the cause of the crash, but a resident of the agricultural and sheep-grazing area said the plane exploded in flight.

“I was working with my father in the field, and I heard an explosion. When I looked up at the sky I saw the fire. When it was falling, the plane split into three pieces,” Sherikbek Turusbekov said.

The crash site is near Chaldovar, a village about 160 km west of the base. Pieces of the plane, including its tail, lay in a grassy field bordered by mountains; the air was infused with the heavy stench of petrol.

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