It Really Was 800+ Afghans on That Plane. They Forgot to Count the Kids.
The iconic photo of Reach 871, the packed U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo plane, touched people around the world—and highlighted the dire situation now facing Afghans.
A U.S. Air Force C-17 crew that made headlines around the world for its quick decision to pack in as many panicked men, women, and children fleeing the Taliban into their cargo hold as possible flew more than 800 Afghans to safety after all. The original number did not include children.
The total count? Eight hundred and twenty-three, which is the largest evacuation flight a C-17 has ever flown. The original count released by the Air Force was 640 Afghans.
“This is a record for this aircraft,” Air Mobility Command tweeted Friday. “The initial count of 640 inadvertently included only adults. 183 children were also aboard.”
Reach 871, a C-17 out of Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, was swarmed by Afghans late Sunday night. The plane was empty and the back gate was halfway down when those evacuees began pulling themselves into the plane and then pulling others up behind them.
That crew faced a choice in that moment: try to force the Afghans off the plane and get them officially manifested and queued up, or allow as many as they can to get on the plane and go.
They chose to go.
A photo from the inside of Reach 871, a U.S. Air Force C-17 flown from Kabul to Qatar on Aug. 15. COURTESY PHOTO
“We have women and children and people's lives at stake, it’s not about capacity or rules and regulations—it's about the training and the directives that we were able to handle to make sure we could safely and effectively get that many people out,” said Lt. Col. Eric Kut, mission commander for the flight.
The crew is not facing repercussions for the decision because they followed the “commander’s intent” of saving as many Afghans as they can.
“That crew is facing no disciplinary action for the mission of Reach 871,” 18th Air Force Commander Maj. Gen. Thad Bibb told Defense One.
“Everybody was very thrilled to actually leave,” loadmaster Tech. Sgt. Justin Triola told CNN’s New Day on Friday morning.
Reports of the plane’s flight out of Afghanistan first surfaced when an audio recording was posted on Twitter late Sunday night. The original recording has since been deleted.
“Eight hundred people on your jet? ... Holy cow,” a controller is heard responding to the jet as it reported its position.