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Kyrgyz presidential jet damaged in collision with U.S. tanker - 1

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BISHKEK, September 27 (RIA Novosti) - A Kyrgyz airliner that collided on takeoff with a U.S. military aircraft at the Central Asian state's international airport Tuesday is a presidential carrier occasionally used for regular flights, the transportation minister said Wednesday.

Sixty-one passengers and crew on the Kyrgyz Airlines Tu-154 jet had a lucky escape as the plane, bound for Moscow, made an emergency landing after hitting the American tanker, a Hercules, at the Manas Airport, which hosts a U.S. airbase. The Hercules had reportedly landed on a wrong runway.

"This is a presidential plane, which is also used for regular flights," Minister Nurlan Sulaimanov said. "That's the only Tu-154 our [national] airline operates."

He said the jetliner had its wing badly damaged in the collision, and that if not for the pilot's skill, "serious consequences" would have been inevitable.

The Foreign Ministry said it had sent a note to the U.S. Embassy, asking for clarification.

"The ministry requests that the U.S. Embassy to the Republic of Kyrgyzstan provide it with an explanation and provide comprehensive assistance in furnishing information available on the incident," the note said.

Alexander Asteonov, head of the Kyrgyz government's civil aviation department, dismissed a theory that the collision resulted from a lack of coordination between American and Kyrgyz air traffic controllers.

"Our civil air controllers manage all flights," he said, adding that they had been trained to provide instructions in English.

Asteonov acknowledged, however, that much of the Manas Airport's traffic control equipment was obsolete and in need of replacement or modernization. He said the Kyrgyz side had repeatedly suggested that the U.S. airbase command assist with an upgrade, but no help has so far been offered.

He said this was the third incident involving the American military since the airbase opened at Manas in 2001 to aid the U.S.-led anti-terrorism campaign in Afghanistan.

"There were two other such incidents, last year and this year, with vehicles from the American airbase causing damage to [our civil] aircraft," he said, adding that the Kyrgyz side sued for damages in both cases.

An ad hoc government commission is investigating the latest incident.

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