Investigators in Kyrgyzstan are probing an extraordinary incident in which a Tupolev Tu-154 lost part of its wing after colliding with a US military Boeing KC-135 tanker during take-off from Bishkek.
Despite the collision the Tu-154, operated by flag-carrier Kyrgyzstan Airlines, managed to become airborne and returned to land at the airport.
It had been bound for Moscow with 52 passengers and nine crew on board. During the take-off roll the Tu-154 struck the KC-135’s wing as the tanker was exiting the runway after landing.
“The Tupolev had a large piece of its wing, up to 2.5m [8ft 3in] long, cut away,” claims airport security unit chief Dzhumgal Kulcharov. “Despite this, it took off and, after making one circle, managed to land safely.”
The KC-135 lost a section of its left wing and suffered damage to its tail and engines after catching fire following the collision.
US military personnel, who use Bishkek’s Manas international airport as a technical support base for operations in neighbouring Afghanistan, extinguished the fire without resorting to airport ground services.
Kyrgyz transport minister Nurlan Suleimenov suggests that lack of lighting and low visibility could have contributed to the accident.
Following the incident, which occurred on 26 September, the airport was closed for around 12h. All inbound flights were diverted to Kazakhstan’s Almaty and Osh airports. Operations at Bishkek resumed yesterday at 08:00.
Kyrgyzstan Airlines’ sole Tu-154 also serves as an executive transport for Kyrgyz Government officials.