640 People Cram Into A C-17 Leaving Afghanistan

Amid chaotic scenes at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport, around 640 people have been evacuated from the city on a single United States Air Force (USAF) C-17A flight to Al Udeid Air Base airbase in Qatar. It is likely the most people ever carried on this type of plane.

A USAF C-17A Globemaster III evacuated around 640 people on a single flight on Monday. Photo: Getty Images

A heroic effort by USAF C-17 crew

The Boeing C-17A Globemaster III left Kabul (KBL) on Monday for Qatar. According to reports, the crew crammed around 640 people in the Globemaster’s cargo bay. Shortly after taking off, an orbiting KC-135R tanker refueled the aircraft.

“Okay, how many people do you think are on your jet?” a flight controller asks the crew. The crew, not knowing the exact count, responded by saying “About 800.” The controller replies,

“800 people on your jet? Holy cow. Good job getting off the ground!

Millions of people around the world have closely watched a series of US-led evacuation flights from Kabul.  In scenes compared to the fall of Saigon 40 years ago, Taliban gunmen have roamed Kabul’s Airport terminal as desperate civilians stormed the apron, literally climbing onto departing planes. At the time of publication, flights to and from Kabul are halted because of the situation at the airport.

Scenes at Kabul Airport on Monday, August 16. Photo: Getty Images

Chaotic scenes at Kabul Airport

Late on Monday, scenes emerged of crowds running alongside taxiing aircraft. It is being reported three Afghans holding on to the side of a USAF C-17 as it taxied across a runway were killed when they fell off and run over. Footage of people falling from the undercarriage of USAF aircraft after takeoff is also circulating online.

The 640 fortunate people on the Globemaster made it to the safety of Al Udeid Air Base southwest of Doha. The C-17A is designed to fly 134 military personnel along with their equipment. But reports suggest these people flew out with nothing more than the clothes on their backs, and USAF crew packed them in like sardines.

Kabul Airport
US forces secure Kabul Airport at the weekend. Photo: Getty Images

One of the world’s great evacuation flights

The flight will undoubtedly go down as one of history’s great evacuation flights. While the world applauds a sterling effort by this USAF crew, comparisons with other big evacuation flights are inevitable. In May 1991, as part of Operation Solomon, an El Al Boeing 747-200 carried 1,086 people on a single flight from Addis Ababa to Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. The stated maximum capacity for a Boeing 747-200 is 480 passengers.

In 1975, a C-130 escaping from South Vietnam squeezed 452 passengers in. It is said, though not confirmed, there were 32 people in the cockpit alone. In 2013, a C-17 flew 670 people out of the Philippines in the wake of a typhoon. According to The Drive, the United Arab Emirates also tightly packed one of their C-17s as they evacuated their own people from Kabul in recent days.

The United States moves to secure Kabul Airport

While the Taliban have taken Kabul, US forces are taking control of Kabul’s Airport. At the time of publication, approximately 2,500 US military personnel are securing the airport, and thousands more are due in the following days.

In addition to the United States, other countries are moving to evacuate their citizens and allied Afghans. The United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, and France are just some of the countries waiting for the security situation to improve at the airport.

Amid an appalling situation in Kabul, the C-17 Globemaster flight is a little piece of good news.