The situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate. Taliban forces have taken over bases, captured stockpiles of weapons and vehicles, and have entered the nation's capitol, Kabul. Civilians flock to the airport in hopes of boarding an airplane and fleeing the country.
A major component in the air bridge out of Afghanistan is the U.S. Air Force's Air Mobility Command. One Air Force C-17A and its crew appears to have done the impossible and flew an estimated 800 people out of Kabul.
C-17A reg. 01-0186, designated flight RCH (Reach) 871, is based out of Dover Air Force Base, Delaware. According to reported air traffic, the flight took off from Kabul on August 15. Following its departure, RCH 871 made radio contact to report their status. A one-minute sound recording posted online contains what sounds like an air traffic controller communicating with the flight.
"Ok, how many people do you think are on your jet?" the controller inquires. The audio only reveals one side of the conversation. "800 people on your jet?!" he asks in disbelief. "Holy...holy cow," he says after taking a second to process that number. He goes on to commend the Air Force crew on their accomplishment and asks details about the passengers. Because the audio is one-sided, whether or not the majority of the passengers are Afghan nationals fleeing the country cannot be confirmed. However, given the situation, it is a good assumption to make. The audio concludes with the controller asking for their ETA at OTBH, the airport code for Al Udeid Air Base Qatar.
The Boeing C-17A Globemaster III is a heavy-lifter in Air Mobility Command. It's powered by four Pratt & Whitney F117-PW-100 engines which produce 40,900 pounds of thrust each. According to Boeing, however, the aircraft's official passenger capacity is 134 paratroopers with 80 sitting on 8 pallets, plus 54 passengers sitting on sidewall seats. For RCH 871 to cram 800 people onto their aircraft is an incredible feat.
This isn't the first time that an Air Force crew has overloaded their aircraft to save lives. In 2016, C-17s of the 535th Airlift Squadron based out of Hawaii flew mercy missions in the Philippines. The islands were hit hard by Super Typhoon Haiyan, resulting in the displacement of thousands of locals. The airmen flew in thousands of tons of food, water, and machinery to aid in relief efforts. Moreover, one C-17 evacuated over 670 Filipino civilians in a monumental humanitarian effort.
While RCH 871's reported evacuation of 800 people is incredible, other aircraft and their crews continue to fly people out of Kabul. A fleet of KC-135R Stratotankers is performing mid-air refuelings for the relief flights, some shortly after takeoff from Kabul. Britain and the United Arab Emirates also have military aircraft involved in the ongoing evacuation efforts.
Unfortunately, the demand for relief flights outweighs the airlift capabilities at Kabul. As flights load and take off, people can be seen swarming the aircraft. Some cling to the landing gear in a desperate attempt to escape. Tragically, videos have been posted online of people falling to their deaths as a result.
For the 800 people aboard RCH 871, and others that have managed to flee Afghanistan aboard military transports, the herculean efforts of the aircrews who got them out is literally lifesaving.
Feature Image: U.S. Air Force photo