Desperate Afghans clinging to an Air Force transport plane at the Kabul airport Monday might end up being one of the most enduring images of the Taliban takeover. Now, a related one has surfaced that will surely be in the conversation. As Defense One reports, it shows 640 Afghans crammed into an Air Force C-17 on Sunday. The plane wasn't supposed to take that many people, but refugees kept pulling themselves onto the plane's partially closed ramp, and "the crew made the decision to go," a defense official tells the outlet. The Drive had earlier reported on the remarkable flight, but Defense One was the first to get a photo. It's "stunning," writes Mike Allen at Axios.
This audio cited by the Drive is believed to be from the flight. A person talking to the crew asks, "OK, how many people do you think are on your jet?" When someone on the plane, estimates 800, the person responds, "800 people on your jet?! Holy ... Holy cow ... OK." The number was later revised downward, but it appears to be the second-biggest total ever carried by such a plane, behind only the 670 people evacuated from the Philippines after a 2013 typhoon. Typically, 150 or so soldiers fly on the C-17, but Defense One explains that larger numbers are accommodated through a procedure known as floor loading in which "passengers hang onto cargo straps run from wall to wall serving as makeshift seatbelts." The flight, with the call sign Reach 871, belongs to the 436th Air Wing out of Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. (Read more Afghanistan stories.)