This article by Matt White was originally published by Coffee or Die
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.”
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.
“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.”
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Feature image: U.S. Air Force Photo/Capt. Raymond Geoffroy