Afghanistan: People fall from plane as thousands attempt to flee Kabul at any cost

Chaos reigned at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on August 16, 2021.
Chaos reigned at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on August 16, 2021. © Observers

The arrival of the Taliban in the Afghan capital Kabul on August 15 has prompted a mad rush to the airport as residents attempt to leave the country on the last available planes. Videos on social networks show chaotic scenes on the tarmac as Afghans attempted to leave the city by any means necessary, some even clinging onto an American military plane. At least five people died at the airport.

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People scaling airplane ramps and running after planes on the runway: desperate Afghans trying to leave the country in face of Taliban rule filmed videos of the chaos at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on August 15 and 16, 2021. 

By the evening of August 15, hours after the Taliban surrounded Kabul, dense crowds had already descended upon the airport, as seen in this video posted on Twitter: 

A video posted on Twitter August 15, 2021 by Afghan journalist Bilal Sarwary shows at least 100 people descending on the tarmac under the light of cell phone flashlights.

People continued rushing into the airport until the next day. High-resolution satellite images published by Maxar show the extent of the crowds at the airport the next morning.

‘What I saw was a real mess’

Masoud (not his real name) went to the airport with his family the morning of August 16. He told the FRANCE 24 Observers team about the general confusion and chaos that reigned at the airport.

What I saw was a real mess. There were about 10,000 people on the tarmac, and maybe as many as 10,000 others near the airport behind a cordon of Taliban forces who are encircling the airport.

I saw an American military airplane circling for about 30 minutes in the air. It was unable to land because there were people on the tarmac. It’s as if the airport runway was being blocked by a human shield.

A video posted on Snapchat on August 16, 2021 shows Kabul residents climbing up the perimeter wall at Hamid Karzai International Airport.

People who are there are hoping they can get on an airplane. There were a few civilian flights getting out until Sunday night. Some people were able to get onto those flights by force – maybe five people for each flight. There were maybe 50 flights like this Sunday night. Thousands of people were still there Monday morning, hoping to do the same. I went there with my family hoping to get on a flight, but it was impossible.

A video posted on Twitter August 16, 2021 shows throngs of people climbing up the stairs of an airplane ramp in order to get into a plane.

‘People are ready to risk their lives to get out of here’

Afghan aviation officials told people on Monday not to come to the airport, but they continued to convene throughout the day. By mid-day, all commercial flights coming from Kabul were cancelled. 

In an act of desperation, people began to climb onto C-17 US military planes that were about to take off. A video shared widely on social media shows a crowd running alongside a plane, while some are seated on the plane’s landing gear flap. 

A video published on Twitter on August 16, 2021 shows a group of people clinging onto a plane’s landing gear flap as it moves to take off. A crowd of people run alongside the plane.

Another video, filmed from the tarmac just after a US C-17 plane took off, shows two people who had reportedly clung onto the plane, falling hundreds of metres to the ground. 

Due to the shocking nature of this video, we have chosen to only publish screenshots.

These screenshots of a video widely shared on social networks show two people falling from a US military C-17 plane that took off from Kabul airport on August 16, 2021.
These screenshots of a video widely shared on social networks show two people falling from a US military C-17 plane that took off from Kabul airport on August 16, 2021. © Observers

 

Another video from a different angle shows two people falling apparently from the same C-17 as it leaves the perimeter of the airport. It was impossible to verify whether the two videos show the same people falling. 

These screenshots of a video shared widely on social networks show two people falling from a US C-17 military plane that took off from Kabul airport on August 16, 2021.
These screenshots of a video shared widely on social networks show two people falling from a US C-17 military plane that took off from Kabul airport on August 16, 2021. © Observers

A local press agency (CAUTION: graphic images) reported that residents saw three people fall and land on the roofs of houses, publishing photos of a body found on a rooftop.

Using visual indicators in videos of the event posted online, the FRANCE 24 Observers team was able to identify the direction the airplane took off in, as well as the location where the first victim was found. The body of one of the other victims fell on a roof in a neighbourhood to the west of the airport.

In this satellite image of the area surrounding Kabul airport, the blue arrows show the direction the US military plane took off in. The red triangle shows the location where the body of the first victim was found, and the area in red shows the approximate location where another victim’s body was found on a rooftop.
In this satellite image of the area surrounding Kabul airport, the blue arrows show the direction the US military plane took off in. The red triangle shows the location where the body of the first victim was found, and the area in red shows the approximate location where another victim’s body was found on a rooftop. © Observers

Masoud explained why people are trying to leave Kabul by any means necessary:

People are ready to risk their lives to get out of here, as you saw in the videos of people falling from the US military airplane. People grasp the tiniest chance they see.

Just imagine the most precious part of your city, wherever you live, and then imagine that ISIS has occupied it. You’d go crazy too, just like those poor people.

US army controls airport

Videos show the US army attempting to maintain order. A US army official said that troops had fired warning shots into the air in order to prevent people trying to force themselves into a military flight evacuating embassy staff. 

A Pentagon official told AFP that American soldiers had killed two men who were armed and brandishing their weapons. 

Later on Monday, the US halted all evacuation flights, waiting to clear people who had gathered on the airfield. A US military plane circled above the airport, unable to land on the tarmac, which was full of people. 

Additional US forces have been deployed to the airport to provide security and maintain control.

The Afghan aviation authority warned airlines to avoid Afghan airspace late Monday, saying that the airspace had been “released to the military”.