Video from a man hanging onto the C-17 military plane made it rounds on social media on Monday, a day after harrowing images and videos emerged showing many people hanging on the C-17 military plane that had been swarmed by hundreds of people on the tarmac as it took off at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.
Unconfirmed reports said he replied that he was alive after he was asked about his well being on Facebook.
The U.S. Air Force also confirmed that human remains were found inside the wheel well of a C-17 military plane that had been swarmed by hundreds of people on the tarmac as it took off at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.
The discovery was made upon landing at al Udeid Air Base in Qatar on Monday. Air Force officials have not said how many people died in the episode on Monday, but said the service was investigating “the loss of civilian lives” as a crowd of Afghans, desperate to escape the country after their government collapsed to the Taliban, climbed onto the plane’s wings and fell from the sky after it took off.
A dramatic video taken earlier Monday showed some people clinging to the plane as it taxied down the runway in Kabul.
Early Monday morning, the gray Air Force plane — call sign REACH885 — descended onto the runway. The lumbering jet was carrying equipment and supplies for the U.S. Marines and soldiers on the ground securing the airport and helping with the evacuation of thousands of Americans and Afghans.
Minutes after the plane touched down, rolled to a stop and lowered its rear ramp, hundreds, perhaps thousands of Afghans, rushed forward as the small crew watched in alarm.
The crew was aware of what had happened the night before. On Monday morning, the number of people at the airport clamoring to get onto flights had swelled. The crew members feared for their safety, jumped back up into the plane and pulled up the loading ramp before they had finished unloading, officials said.
By then, throngs of Afghans had climbed aboard the wings of the plane and, unbeknown to the crew, officials said, into the wheel well into which the landing gear would fold after takeoff.
The crew contacted air traffic control, operated by U.S. military personnel, and the plane was cleared for takeoff, after spending only minutes on the ground.
Mindful of the people hanging onto the plane, the pilots taxied slowly at first. Military Humvees rushed alongside trying to chase people away and off the plane. Two Apache helicopter gunships flew low, seeking to scare some people away from the plane or push them off with their powerful rotor wash.
REACH885 accelerated and was airborne.
Minutes later, however, the pilot and co-pilot realized they had a serious problem: The landing gear would not fully retract. They sent one of the crew members down to peer through a small porthole that allows them to view potential problems in the wheel well while aloft.
It was then the crew saw the remains of an undetermined number of Afghans who had stowed away in the wheel well — apparently crushed by the landing gear. Scenes captured in videos of the flight showed other people plunging to their death.
After the four-hour flight, the plane landed at its destination, Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, which has become the hub for receiving passengers, including Americans and Afghans, eventually bound for the United States.
Alerted of the tragedy on board, mental health counselors and chaplains met the anguished crew members as they disembarked.
A defense official said the individuals swarming the plane had breached the runway from the civilian side of the airport. At the airport in Kabul, there is a side for military operations and another side for commercial flights.
Air operations were suspended for hours at the airport Monday because of the crush of Afghan civilians desperate to leave Kabul. Operations resumed after the U.S. military, Turkish forces and other troops forcibly removed 15,000 Afghan civilians who had breached the runway, a U.S. official said.
The Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations is reviewing the incident in coordination with the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command and international partners.
“OSI is leading the review in coordination with the U.S. Air Force’s Air Mobility Command and international partners since it involves the loss of life on U.S. military aircraft,” Air Force spokesperson Ann Stefanek said in a statement. “OSI’s review will be thorough to ensure we obtain the facts regarding this tragic incident. Our hearts go out to the families of the deceased.”
The C-17 had landed on a runway at the airport earlier in the day with a load of cargo, according to a summary of events from the Air Force. After landing, the pilots were surprised when the crew attempted to unload its cargo and it was rushed by hundreds of Afghan civilians. At that point, the aircrew decided it was not safe to unload and began taxiing to fly away to safety.
The aircraft was impounded to provide time to collect the remains and inspect the plane before it’s returned to flying status.
“Alongside our joint force, interagency and international partners, the U.S. Air Force remains laser-focused on maintaining security at (the Kabul airport) to prevent a situation like this from happening again as we safely process Afghan civilians seeking to depart the country,” the Air Force statement said.