A U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III safely evacuated some 640 Afghans from Kabul. The C-17, using the call sign Reach 871, was not intending to take on such a large load, but panicked Afghans who had been cleared to evacuate pulled themselves onto the C-17’s half-open ramp.
Instead of trying to force those refugees off the aircraft, “the crew made the decision to go,” a defense official told Defense One. “Approximately 640 Afghan civilians disembarked the aircraft when it arrived at its destination,” the defense official said
Word of the flight spread across late Sunday in the United States when audio from the crew estimating they were carrying 800 passengers was posted online. A defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the true number was about 640 people.
FLEEING the Taliban. Reach 871, a US C-17 flight packed with 640 desperate Afghans on board. pic.twitter.com/Qi5EQrXORd
— Prof Makau Mutua (@makaumutua) August 17, 2021
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 640 people onto their aircraft is an incredible feat.