Human remains have been found in the wheel well of a US military plane once it landed in Qatar following chaotic scenes in Kabul.
The US Air Force is conducting a review of what happened on Sunday as Afghan civilians ran alongside and around the aeroplane before it took off from Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA).
The C-17 Globemaster, with a callsign Reach 871, was carrying some 640 Afghans, reportedly more than five times its suggested payload, after hundreds of desperate people flooded on to the plane.
A photo showing the Afghan civilians, crouching and crammed up against each other on the floor of the military plane, went viral on social media after Kabul was seized by Taliban insurgents.
US defence officials said the plane took off from the international airport in Afghanistan’s capital city with what is believed to be the highest number of people ever flown in the C-17, a military cargo aircraft that has been used by the US and its allies for nearly 30 years.
It touched down safely in Qatar.
The Department of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OSI) said in a statement it is reviewing all available information regarding a C-17 aircraft, as well as the loss of civilian lives.
“In addition to online videos and press reports of people falling from the aircraft on departure, human remains were discovered in the wheel well of the C-17 after it landed at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar,” the statement added.
OSI said its review will be “thorough to ensure we obtain the facts regarding this tragic incident”, adding “our hearts go out to the families of the deceased”.
The aircraft had landed in Kabul to deliver a load of equipment to support the evacuation of Afghan and American civilians from Afghanistan, but before the aircrew could offload the cargo, it was surrounded by hundreds of Afghan civilians who had breached the airport perimeter.
The Air Force said its crew decided to depart the airfield as quickly as possible due to the rapidly deteriorating situation around the aircraft.
The civilians were among thousands of people who descended on the airport in Kabul over the past few days in a desperate bid to leave Afghanistan.
Some clung to another plane as it taxied and video footage showed at least one person falling from the aircraft during take-off.
At least five people were killed during chaos on the ground, with US troops firing into the air to deter people trying to force their way on to flights evacuating diplomats and embassy staff.
The Air Force added that the C-17 aircraft is currently impounded to provide time to collect the remains and undergo an inspection before it is returned to flying status.
It said it remains “laser-focused” on maintaining security at HKIA to prevent a situation like this from happening again as it safely processes Afghan civilians seeking to depart the country.
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