Cellphone video posted online allegedly shows a KC-135 that crashed in Kyrgyzstan on May 3, killing three Fairchild Air Force Base airmen.
Captains Mark Voss and Victoria Pinckney and Tech Sergeant Herman Mackey were killed in the crash.
KXLY sources say the widely scattered debris field at the crash site indicates the tanker suddenly came apart about eight minutes into its flight out of the Transit Center at Manas in Kyrgyzstan.
The cellphone video, shot about 2:45 p.m. Kyrgyzstan local time on May 3, shows a plume of smoke trailing burning wreckage plummeting to the ground. As the wreckage plummets, flames flare out of the wreckage several times before the tree line obscures the wreckage from view before it hits the ground. The clouds in the video correspond with the pilot's radio request to change their course to avoid a large thunderstorm in the area at the time of the crash.
A nearby rancher told reporters he first thought he was looking at a meteor but then spotted three different pieces of falling debris. Video from the crash scene shows the tanker's wings and tail did not burn, so the cellphone video could possibly show the fuselage itself making its descent.
"I was working in the field and heard the sound of explosions, saw a great fire. That fire fell and broke into three pieces when it hit the ground. All the pieces were falling. Three or four places burned and smoked and the wing was falling apart," the farmer said through an interpreter.
KXLY sources said the largest pieces of the KC-135 were flown to Scott Air Force Base, the headquarters for Air Mobility Command in Illinois, where the debris is being analyzed for signs of metal fatigue. The tanker's flight recorder was recovered and sent to the Air Force Safety Center at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico for decoding.
Initially Air Force officials worried bad fuel may have caused the tanker crash, so all refueling flights out of Manas were suspended as part of a brief safety stand down. Now investigators reportedly know something else, possibly turbulence or an onboard explosion of some sort, tore the plane apart in midair.
If the video is of the May 3 KC-135 crash it confirms the plane came apart and started burning at a very high altitude. Also, if it is confirmed to be the wreckage of the KC-135 falling from the sky captured in the video, it may be the first video to date that shows the crash.
Officials at Air Mobility Command did not have a comment on the status of the crash investigation at the time this story was broadcast. Fairchild Air Force Base officials said they were not authorized to comment on the crash. Calls to Boeing and Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers for comment on the crash investigation were not returned.