KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – It’s a scene that symbolizes the chaotic end of the United States’ 20-year war in Afghanistan: a heavy US Air Force cargo plane takes off from Kabul airport, chased by hundreds of desperate Afghans scrambling to get on the plane.
As the C-17 transporter gains altitude, a shaky cellphone video captures two tiny dots falling from the plane. Pictures from another angle show many people in the crowd on the tarmac stopping in their tracks and pointing fingers.
The full extent of the horror does not become apparent until later. It turns out the dots were desperate Afghans hiding in the wheel arch. As the wheels folded back into the body of the plane, the stowaways had to choose between being crushed to death or letting go and diving to the ground.
More than a month later, much remains unclear about what happened in that tragic takeoff on August 16, a day after the Taliban invaded Kabul, causing an influx of Afghans trying to escape. from the country.
Even how many were killed remains unknown. The videos show two dots falling from the plane in flight, several seconds apart. But two bodies landed on the same roof at the same time, suggesting they fell together, so the other character seen falling in the videos could be at least one other person. In addition, the US military said it found human remains still in the wheel arch of the C-17 when it landed in Qatar, but did not specify the number of people. At least one person, a young footballer, died on the tarmac, crushed under the wheels of the C-17.
The US military said it did not complete its investigation that day. He said the C-17 was bringing supplies for the airport evacuation effort, but was assaulted by Afghans on the tarmac as it landed. Fearing that the plane would be submerged, the crew decided to take off again without unloading the cargo. Videos taken by Afghans on the tarmac show hundreds of people running alongside him, and possibly a dozen people sitting in the wheel arch, although it is not known how many jumped before the plane. does not take off.
One of those hidden in the wheel well was Fida Mohammad, a 24-year-old dentist.
He had once been hopeful, his family said. He got married last year in an extravagant ceremony that cost his family $ 13,000. His dream of opening a dental clinic in Kabul had come true.
Then the Taliban seized Kabul and all possibilities for the future seemed to disappear, his father Painda Mohammed told The Associated Press.
The older man still has a hard time figuring out what his son was thinking when he climbed into the wheel well. He is consumed with guilt, fearing that Fida had taken such a huge risk because he wanted to help pay off the big loan his father had taken out for the marriage.
Burying his head in his hands, Painda says he spends hours imagining his son’s last minutes, the fear he must have felt as the earth beneath him began to disappear and the wheels rolled over, knowing that he had no choice but to let go.
On the ground, Abdullah Waiz was sleeping at his home at the time and was woken up by a loud noise. His first thought was an explosion. He rushed outside. Her neighbors gestured to her roof and told her the bodies were falling from the sky.
Two bodies were hit in the same corner of its roof, Waiz said, pointing to where the concrete was still stained with blood. Waiz thinks they’ve been holding hands since they fell in the same spot. He gathered the remains on a rag and transported them to a nearby mosque, he said.
“For 48 hours after that, I couldn’t sleep or eat,” he said.
They identified one body as being Fida because he had stuffed his father’s name and number in his pocket. Local media said the second body was identified as a young man named Safiullah Hotak.
For two weeks at the end of August, as the United States and its allies ended their presence in Afghanistan, tens of thousands of Afghans rushed to the Kabul airport in a frenzy to escape a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. A 2 year old child died in the stampede. An Islamic State suicide bomber blew himself up in the middle of the crowd, killing 169 Afghans and 13 US servicemen. Yet even after the explosion, thousands of people returned to the airport, hoping to get inside.
The scenes were so traumatic that the US Air Force offered psychological counseling to Air Force personnel who worked at the Kabul airport, as well as the crew of the ill-fated C-17 flight after its flight. landing at Al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar.
Another victim on August 16 was Zaki Anwari, 17, a rising star for the Afghan national football team. He would spend hours watching his hero Lionel Messi play. “He couldn’t get enough. It was all he talked about, all he did, ”said his 20-year-old brother, Zakir Anwari.
Zaki was too young to experience the harsh Taliban rule in the late 1990s. But as militant force swept across the provinces, Zaki’s social media was inundated with rumors and horror stories meant to tell life. under the Taliban.
The last time they ruled, the Taliban banned most sports, including football, and regularly gathered young men at prayer times to force them to attend the mosque. Zaki was certain his dream of competing internationally for the Afghan team was over.
Zaki traveled to the airport with an older brother and a cousin on August 16. He was supposed to just watch the car while the cousin, who had worked for an American company, tried to enter the airport. Instead, as they were gone, he climbed over the perimeter wall of the airport.
A breathless Zaki then called his other brother Zakir. He said he was inside the airport and was getting on a plane soon. Zakir said he begged his brother not to go, reminding him that he didn’t have his passport or even his ID card with him and asking, “What will you do in America? “
But her younger brother hung up, then called her mother. “Pray for me. I’m going to America,” Zaki said. She begged him, “Come home.”
Zaki was no longer listening. He ran alongside the plane as it picked up speed until it was suddenly knocked onto its side and fell under the steering wheel and died, witnesses told the family later.
Painda Mohammad, the young dentist’s father, watches over and over on his phone videos showing his son dancing at his wedding.
Through his tears he said, “He was a gift from God and now God has taken him back.
Associated Press writer Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report.