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Military Clears Crew of Plane That Took Flight as Afghans Fell to Their Deaths

WASHINGTON — The Air Force has cleared the crew of an American navy C-17 cargo aircraft that took off from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul final August with individuals hanging onto the wings, throughout the frenzied days of the Afghanistan evacuation.

Twin evaluations of the harrowing incident, during which human physique elements had been later found within the wheel effectively of the aircraft, concluded that the aircrew was “in compliance with applicable rules of engagement,” Ann Stefanek, an Air Force spokeswoman, mentioned in a press release on Monday. The evaluations had been performed by the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command and United States Central Command.

It stays unclear precisely how many individuals died in the episode on Aug. 16, 2021, as a crowd of Afghans, determined to escape the nation after their authorities collapsed underneath the Taliban, climbed onto the surface of the aircraft and fell from it after the flight took off.

Video of the horrific scene, recorded by the Afghan information media, circulated around the globe.

“This was a tragic event and our hearts go out to the families of the deceased,” Ms. Stefanek mentioned within the assertion. Pentagon officers mentioned traumatized members of the aircrew had been later despatched for consultations with psychological well being professionals and chaplains.

Ms. Stefanek mentioned that the crew “acted appropriately and exercised sound judgment in their decision to get airborne as quickly as possible when faced with an unprecedented and rapidly deteriorating security situation.”

During the panic on the airport within the days after the autumn of the Afghan authorities, American pilots and troops had been pressured to make troublesome, on-the-spot choices. Hours earlier than the transport aircraft left Kabul, one other C-17 had taken off with 640 individuals crowded on board — greater than double the quantity deliberate for — after a whole lot of Afghans who had been cleared by the State Department for evacuation surged onto the loading ramps, navy officers mentioned. The pilots determined that the immense plane might deal with the load and took off, officers mentioned. That aircraft landed at its vacation spot safely.

Early the subsequent morning, a grey Air Force aircraft — name signal REACH885 — descended onto the runway. The lumbering jet was carrying tools and provides for the U.S. Marines and troopers who had been securing the airport in Kabul and serving to with the evacuation of hundreds of Americans and Afghans.

Minutes after the aircraft had touched down, rolled to a cease and lowered its rear ramp, a whole lot, maybe hundreds, of Afghans rushed ahead.

The crew members jumped again up into the aircraft and pulled up the loading ramp earlier than they’d completed unloading, officers mentioned.

By then, throngs of Afghans had climbed aboard the wings and, unbeknown to the crew, into the wheel effectively the touchdown gear would fold into after takeoff, officers mentioned.

The crew contacted air visitors management, which was operated by U.S. navy personnel, and the aircraft was cleared for takeoff.

The pilots taxied slowly at first. Military Humvees rushed alongside, attempting to chase individuals away from and off the aircraft. Two Apache helicopter gunships flew low, looking for to scare some individuals away from the aircraft or push them off with their highly effective rotor wash.

REACH885 accelerated and was airborne.

Minutes later, nevertheless, the pilot and co-pilot discovered that the touchdown gear wouldn’t absolutely retract. They despatched a crew member down to peer by a porthole.

It was then that the crew noticed the stays of a nonetheless undetermined quantity of Afghans who had stowed away within the wheel effectively, apparently crushed by the touchdown gear. Scenes captured in movies of the flight confirmed different individuals plunging to their dying.