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Air Force launches investigation into deadly Kabul C-17 flight

U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Frank McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, arrives at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Afghanistan on Aug. 17, 2021. (U.S. Navy photo by Capt. William Urban)

The Air Force Office of Special Investigations is reviewing the events that led to a deadly C-17 takeoff from Kabul Monday, during which Afghans mobbed and clung to the accelerating plane, resulting in multiple deaths.

The viral video footage of the Globemaster II showed Afghan men swarming the aircraft, which had landed at Hamid Karzai International Airport to deliver equipment supporting the evacuation operations the U.S. military had set up there.

“Before the aircrew could offload the cargo, the aircraft was surrounded by hundreds of Afghan civilians who had breached the airport perimeter,” the Air Force said in a statement. “Faced with a rapidly deteriorating security situation around the aircraft, the C-17 crew decided to depart the airfield as quickly as possible.”

In the video footage seen around the world, scores of men surrounded and clung to the aircraft as it rolled toward takeoff. As the plane gained altitude, videos posted to Twitter purported to show human bodies falling to the ground.

At least one of those fleeing Afghans clung to the wheel well and as the aircraft ascended, the crew was unable to retract the landing gear, and declared an emergency, the Washington Post first reported.

The aircraft diverted to Al Udeid Air Force Base in Qatar. Human remains were found in the wheel well, the Air Force said in its statement.

“The aircraft is currently impounded to provide time to collect the remains and inspect the aircraft before it is returned to flying status,” the Air Force said.

The OSI review will not only look at the decision to conduct the takeoff, but also at the release of video “and the source of social media posts” from inside the C-17 that showed a body violently flapping in the air at the wheel well.

“Our hearts go out to the families of the deceased,” the Air Force said.


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