A US air force plane touched down safely in Qatar yesterday after carrying more than five times its suggested load when hundreds of desperate Afghan refugees flooded the plane.
Reach 871, a C-17 Globemaster III massive military cargo plane used by the US and its allies for the past 30 years, flew from Kabul International Airport late on Sunday, local time.
According to US defence officials, and photos obtained by Defense One, the crew safely evacuated more than 640 Afghan people.
Authorities believe the passenger load was likely one of the largest ever flown by a C-17.
The cargo plane had not been planning on carrying so many passengers however hundreds of Afghans, cleared to evacuate, managed to pull themselves up onto the aircraft’s half-open ramp.
A video posted on Sunday showed Afghans already in the plane pulling other people up as they all crowded around the aircraft.
Faced with either forcing the extra refugees off the aircraft or attempting to take off, “the crew made the decision to go”, an official told Defense One.
“Approximately 640 Afghan civilians disembarked the aircraft when it arrived at its destination,” another official said.
Initial reports suggested there were as many as 800 people on the plane, with audio revealing the flight crew also believed there to be up to 800 people.
Horrific scenes at Kabul Airport
Thousands of people swarmed Kabul Airport as the Taliban surrounded the Afghan capital.
A US official said a number of cargo planes took off with hundreds of people on-board.
There were also horrific scenes at the airport as desperate refugees, unable to get inside the C-17 planes, instead clung to the wings and landing gear as the aircraft took off.
Footage from Kabul Airport showed at least two people falling to their death after the planes took off.
Senior US military officials told the Associated Press at least seven people were dead at the airport, including those who fell from the departing American military transport jet.
Shortly after the scenes from the runway emerged, footage showed Afghans clamouring onto the side of the C-17 and clinging on to its undercarriage as it struggled down the tarmac.
Subsequent footage also showed people falling from the sky.
Online reports indicate at least 12 people were seen holding onto the landing gear as the plane took off. It appears most of those were young men.
The previous largest known group to be flown on a C-17 was in 2013 when 670 people were evacuated out of the Philippines to flee a devastating typhoon.
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