|Holy *$#@, a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III safely transported 823 Afghan citizens from Hamid Karzai International Airport, Aug. 15, 2021 to Qatar. (U.S. Air Force photo) to set a capacity record for passengers aboard one flight. |
The Air Force at first said that 640 Afghans were on the flight, as reported by Defense One. But after the flight crew appeared on CNN, Air Mobility Command spokeswoman Maj. Hope Cronin told the media that number accounted only for the adult passengers, adding that there were also 183 children on board.
Defense One website reported that the C-17 didn't plan on transporting so many civilians, but when Afghans pulled themselves onto its half-open ramp, the crew decided to fly filled to the brim. A defense official told the website that the Afghans had been cleared to evacuate.
The revised figure shows that the crew's initial reckoning of some 800 souls aboard -- a number that shocked air traffic controllers, one of whom responded with a "holy f---" when the total was estimated over the radio -- was largely accurate.
|Families board a U.S. Air Force Boeing C-17 Globemaster III during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 23. Photo: US. MARINE CORPS / SGT. SAMUEL RUIZ|
“Reach 871” shattered the C-17's previous air transportation passenger records. In 2013, the Air Force flew more than 670 people out of Manila during relief operations after a super typhoon devastated the Philippines.
When “Reach 871” was swarmed by Afghans. The plane was empty and the back gate was halfway down when those evacuees began pulling themselves into the plane and then pulling others up behind them. That crew faced a choice in that moment: try to force the Afghans off the plane and get them officially manifested and queued up, or allow as many as they can to get on the plane and go.
They chose to go.
|An Afghan child sleeps on the cargo floor of a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III, kept warm by the uniform of the C-17 loadmaster, during an evacuation flight from Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 15, 2021. U.S. AIR FORCE|
The scenario was part of a remarkable evacuation effort by the U.S. in Kabul as more than 42,000 were safely airlifted out of the country. “We have women and children and people's lives at stake, it’s not about capacity or rules and regulations—it's about the training and the directives that we were able to handle to make sure we could safely and effectively get that many people out,” said Lt. Col. Eric Kut, mission commander for the flight.
The crew is not facing repercussions for the decision because they followed the “commander’s intent” of saving as many Afghans as they can. So, how big was “Reach 871’s flight? For example, a battalion of U.S. Marines runs about 800 in its ranks or about the entire population of Marengo, Indiana.
--Stephen Losey, Reporter, Military.com
--Defense One: Defense contractors industry newsletter.