As the pressure to evacuate people from Kabul airport grows, the US military has released updated figures for one of its flights. It reports that a C-17 Globemaster aircraft evacuated 823 Afghan citizens on August 15th. This is a new record for the type – by a long way – and gives some idea of the scale of the operation underway.
823 people on one aircraft
In a Twitter post on August 20th, US Air Mobility Command released confirmed and updated figures for one of its many evacuation flights from Kabul. We recently reported that a new record was set for a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft when it carried 640 Afghan citizens out of Hamid Karzai International Airport. This has now been increased to a massive 823.
Initial estimates for the mission were apparently based on the total number of bus seats used when filling the aircraft. This did not take account of children in laps – adding another 183 to the total.
CORRECTION: A @usairforce C-17 Globemaster III safely transported 823 Afghan citizens from Hamid Karzai International Airport Aug. 15, 2021. This is a record for this aircraft.⁰
The initial count of 640 inadvertently included only adults. 183 children were also aboard. https://t.co/DL6wP8WTQV
— Air Mobility Command (@AirMobilityCmd) August 20, 2021
The aircraft would have left with a light fuel load, which would help achieve such a heavy take-off weight. It was refueled after takeoff by a US military tanker aircraft.
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Numbers like this may seem crazy when compared to a commercial aircraft. But this is a stripped-out cargo plane. Passengers are not seated but instead will fill the available hold space of the aircraft.
It is also not the first time this has happened. While it is a record for the C-17, it is not a record overall. In 1991, over 14,000 Ethiopian Jews were evacuated from Ethiopia to Israel as part of Operation Solomon. This involved Boeing 707, Boeing 747, and Hercules C-130 aircraft. One El Al Boeing 747 aircraft is recorded as transporting 1,080 people (estimates vary, but even lower estimates are a record).
Confusion over numbers
You can only imagine the confusion, chaos, and difficulties at Kabul airport currently. We reported confusion over these numbers before. When a controller asked the Qatar-bound Globemaster how many passengers were onboard, the crew replied with “about 800.”
This is far from the only example of changing numbers and confusing messages. There have been accusations that flights operated by the UK RAF were leaving almost empty in recent days. These have been denied by the UK government.
Flights from Kabul
The situation is changing rapidly in Afghanistan. We will surely see more packed military evacuation flights over the coming days, but no one knows how long they will be able to continue. The US military is currently securing the airport and controlling ATC.
Civilian flights, however, remain suspended. Airspace was closed on August 16th. A few final flights were made, including a Turkish Airlines Boeing 777, which had difficulties leaving due to people on the airfield. There were also scenes of a Kam Air A340 being stormed on the ground as people climbed onto the jetbridge to gain access. The Kam Air crew were evacuated separately on a nearby Boeing 737 aircraft.
These military evacuation flights will hopefully continue, and we may see similarly high numbers repeated. The situation in Afghanistan and at Kabul airport is terrible, and we can only hope that such flights continue to make a difference.