Air Force officials revised the number of people they counted on a Sunday, Aug. 15, C-17 flight from Kabul to 823. The previous count was 640, but the Air Force now says that number included only adults. Photo courtesy of the US Air Force.
In a morning interview Friday, Aug. 20, on CNN, the crew of Reach 871 — one of the first C-17s to fly out of Kabul in the ongoing airlift — said their now-famous flight carried 823 people out of Afghanistan Sunday.
“A lot of people talk about rules and regulations and capacity,” the pilot, Lt. Col. Eric Kut, told CNN Friday. “We were trained to max-perform that aircraft, and we had women and children’s lives who were at stake.
“We’re there to deliver hope and freedom.”
CORRECTION: A @usairforce C-17 Globemaster III safely transported 823 Afghan citizens from Hamid Karzai International Airport Aug. 15, 2021. This is a record for this aircraft.⁰
The initial count of 640 inadvertently included only adults. 183 children were also aboard. https://t.co/DL6wP8WTQV
— Air Mobility Command (@AirMobilityCmd) August 20, 2021
The aircraft’s loadmaster, Tech. Sgt. Justin Triola, told CNN the plane had flown 823 people, a number confirmed by Air Force Air Mobility Command as including 640 adults and 183 children.
Such a number would dwarf the previous highest-known total of passengers on a C-17, a 670-person lift in 2013 during an evacuation from a typhoon-ravaged area of the Philippines.
A photo of a military aircraft packed with evacuees flying out of Afghanistan went viral. There were 823 evacuees on board, the crew told CNN.https://t.co/0Az8NNBXVh pic.twitter.com/DhI8FQKES0
— New Day (@NewDay) August 20, 2021
“Reach” — or RCH — is a common in-flight designator for C-17 flights, which, on a typical mission, would fly fewer than 200 people, depending on seating arrangements.
A C-17 pilot described to Coffee or Die Magazine how out of the ordinary such a flight would be. “In normal times? Yeah, waivers galore (no seats, not enough oxygen, life preserves, etc.),” the pilot said. “In this case, there’s some things that are inherently waived with these ops. Mostly just the AC’s [aircraft commander’s] call.”
Reach 871 was one of the first flights in the ongoing airlift from Kabul to Doha in Qatar. One-way audio of an air traffic controller speaking to the pilot surfaced soon after the flight, launching rumors. The audio, which could not be authenticated and was later removed by the SoundCloud user who posted it, captures a controller asking the crew how many people were on board and his evident shock as he repeats back the answer: “Eight hundred people on your jet? […] Holy — holy cow.”
Matt White is a former senior editor for Coffee or Die Magazine. He was a pararescueman in the Air Force and the Alaska Air National Guard for eight years and has more than a decade of experience in daily and magazine journalism.
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