Rescuers recovered the bodies of two US pilots whose refuelling plane crashed in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan shortly after taking off from a base that serves as a hub for military operations in Afghanistan, the emergency situations ministry said.

"The bodies of two pilots were found this morning at 7 am (01:00 GMT) near the site of the crash. The search operation is continuing, the body of the third crew member has not yet been found," a spokesman for the Kyrgyzstan emergency situations ministry said on Saturday.

Emergency Situations Minister Kubatbek Boronov told journalists that "the American side is establishing the identity of the dead. Staff from the Manas transit centre are at the scene. They will also investigate the cause of the air incident."

Around 50 rescuers were still searching for the third crew member, Boronov said.

The rescue operation resumed in the early morning after being called off during the night, as little hope remained of finding the crew alive after the plane broke up and burst into flames soon after taking off from the US base at Bishkek international airport.

The plane caught fire in mid air and crashed near the border between Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan on Friday.

The aircraft took off from the US military transit centre on Friday at Kyrgyzstan's Manas airport, which US forces maintain for operations in Afghanistan, the Interfax news agency reported.

The plane, used for inflight refuelling, disappeared from radar screens at 3:10 pm (0910 GMT), as it flew near the Kyrgyz village of Chaldovar, the ministry said.

"(The plane) caught fire in the air and crashed," said an official responsible for the southern Kyrgyz province of Chuisk, where Chaldovar is located.

The Manas base is used to transport US personnel in and out of Afghanistan and has been used by other international forces fighting in the country.

Source: Agencies