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Afghanistan: the story behind the photo of the American plane and its 640 passengers

The image of the interior of the American C-17 filled with passengers sitting on the ground has traveled the world. The snapshot was taken Sunday, August 15 in Kabul, which had just fallen into the hands of the Taliban.

Some 640 people boarded an American C-17.
Some 640 people boarded an American C-17. US AIR FORCE / REUTERS

If there was just one picture to be taken of the chaotic evacuation of Kabul, it would be this. In the metal carcass of an American plane, a compact crowd crowds to escape the Taliban entering the city. Shoulder to shoulder, we can make out men, women and children, sitting on the floor. The snapshot was taken on Sunday evening, August 15, as the Afghan capital fell into the hands of the Taliban.

According to the specialized site Defense One , this C-17 Globemaster III of the US Air Force embarked some 640 Afghans in the direction of Qatar. According to this specialized site; “ This is one of the largest numbers of people ever on board the C-17 ”. The C-17 is a military transport aircraft developed by the manufacturer Boeing and operated by the United States and its allies.

« The crew made the decision to leave »

A US defense official at Defense One

Designed to carry up to 134 soldiers, the plane – whose call sign was Reach 871 – was not supposed to carry so many people, but when boarding, hundreds of Afghans cleared to evacuate gathered in precipitated in the apparatus. Rather than releasing some of the passengers,  » the crew made the decision to leave,  » a US defense official told Defense One.  » About 640 Afghan civilians disembarked from the plane when it arrived at its destination,  » he added, and not 800, as the first estimates of the pilots indicated on Sunday evening, which can be heard in this audio .

« The unusually high number of passengers on board this aircraft […] was the result of a dynamic security environment that required swift decisions from the crew, » said Karen Roxberry, spokesperson for US Central , in a statement. Command, the US command center managing operations in the region. « Ultimately, this allowed these passengers to be safely evacuated from the country. »

A precedent in 2013 in the Philippines

This procedure is however provided and known under the name of “ Floor loading ”, or “ loading on the ground ”, according to the user manual of the device. It consists of removing the seats to seat the passengers on the ground, which are held in place by means of loading straps which run from one wall of the aircraft to the other. According to the official quoted by Defense One, this operation was already carried out in 2013, in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan . A C-17 then carried 670 passengers.

To date, the US military has evacuated more than 3,200 people from Afghanistan, including US personnel, according to a White House official. In addition to these 3,200 people, nearly 2,000 Afghan refugees were evacuated to the United States. The United States plans to evacuate more than 30,000 people via an airlift between Kabul and its bases in Kuwait and Qatar.

Par Jules Bercy

A writer a blogger passionate about science, history politics, the general knowledge of our planet and the Universe...

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