US military flight crew that helped hundreds of Afghan civilians escape set record for airplane load

‘Initial count of 640 inadvertently included only adults. 183 children were also aboard,’ Air Mobility Command says after revising figure of Afghans carried by single C-17 flight to 823 people

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Friday 20 August 2021 16:31
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US military flight crew that flew out hundreds of Afghan civilians set record for airplane load

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The US military flight crew that helped hundreds of Afghan civilians escape from Kabul set a record for the load carried by a C-17 Globemaster III Air Force aircraft.

An image from inside the plane went viral, with Air Mobility Command initially estimating that 640 Afghans were included on the 15 August flight.

But the major command of the US Air Force revised that figure on Friday to say that the C-17 plane actually carried 823 people, setting a record for that type of aircraft.

“The initial count of 640 inadvertently included only adults. 183 children were also aboard,” Air Mobility Command said. “The original number was based on how many bus seats were filled departing the aircraft and didn’t account for the number of children in laps.”

“I wonder when you realised that a C-17 is big, but 640 people ... what was the decision that you all made collectively to say ‘you know what – let’s go, this is the right thing to do, we’re saving lives, let’s put all the other questions aside for the time being’?” CNN anchor John Avlon asked the flight crew.

“That was exactly it, we were doing just that. And our 640 number was a little bit underestimated, we actually carried 823 to get everybody out of there,” the C-17 loadmaster, Technical Sergeant Justin Triola, said.

Afghan citizens pack inside a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III, as they are transported from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Afghanistan, Sunday, Aug. 15, 2021. On Friday, Aug. 20, 2021

Asked about the mood of the Afghans on the plane, Sgt Triola said “they were definitely anxious to get out of the area, and we were happy to accommodate them, and they were definitely excited once we were airborne”.

“Was there a moment of celebration, of palpable relief once you took off?” Avlon asked.

“Absolutely, everybody was very thrilled to actually leave,” Sgt Triola said.

President Joe Biden said on Wednesday that the US could evacuate as many as 65,000 Afghans, a number that includes those who have worked alongside the US as well as their families.

Mr Biden told ABC News that all Americans should be out of the country by 31 August, but that US troops could stay behind if that hasn’t been achieved.

“If there [are] American citizens left, we’re going to stay until we get them all out,” Mr Biden said.

He added that evacuations must increase if all Afghans with US connections are to be flown out.

“The commitment holds to get everyone out that, in fact, we can get out and everyone that should come out,” Mr Biden said about Afghan civilians who have worked with the US. “That’s the path we’re on. And I think we’ll get there.”

White House Communications Director Kate Bedingfield told CNN on Friday that “we don’t have a precise number” of how many Americans remain in Afghanistan.

“As of a few weeks ago, we had already begun reaching out to all American citizens who were in Afghanistan via email, via text, via messaging app to hear from them and to understand their plans and work with them to get them out, if they want to get out,” she said. “And so that is a massive logistical operation that’s underway.

“The president has committed, we will get every American who wants to get out, out of Afghanistan. And we are working to move as many of our allies — who helped us, who stood by us, who helped our servicemen and women — get out as possible,” she added.

Ms Bedingfield was pushed on whether the US would be willing to leave some people behind in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

“We are doing everything we can to get as many people out who want to get out before the August 31 deadline. That is the sole focus of the president of the United States and his team right now. They are doing everything operationally within their capacity to get out,” Ms Bedingfield told CNN.

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