The U.S. Air Force has opened a review of the harrowing and fatal incident Monday involving desperate Afghans rushing toward and climbing onto a taxiing C-17 Globemaster III at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan.
In a statement released Tuesday, the Air Force confirmed that human remains were found in the C-17's wheel well after it landed at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, following the plane's hasty departure from Kabul. The plane will be impounded at Al Udeid until the remains are collected and the aircraft is inspected, the service said.
The C-17 landed at the airport in Kabul -- now the site of thousands of the last U.S. troops in Afghanistan, as well as American, Afghan and other civilians seeking to flee the country -- loaded with equipment to deliver, the Air Force said. But before the crew could unload the cargo, hundreds of Afghan civilians who had breached the airport perimeter surrounded the aircraft, the service added.
The C-17 crew saw the situation was rapidly deteriorating and decided to take off again as quickly as possible, according to the Air Force. That's when the tragic scene of Afghans climbing onto its exterior in a desperate bid for escape unfolded, captured on video that went viral. Some Afghans fell to their deaths from the airplane after takeoff, press reports said.
The Air Force's Office of Special Investigations is reviewing all video, social media posts and other information about the incident, but there is not yet a formal investigation. The service typically decides after such a review whether a safety board, accident investigation board or other formal investigation is needed.
The most serious aviation incidents, in which someone is killed or permanently disabled, are categorized as Class A mishaps, though it remains to be seen how this event will be classified.
Air Mobility Command and Air Force safety officials also are looking into the incident to understand what happened at the airport Monday, how events unfolded and to better ensure the safety of flight operations supporting the Afghanistan evacuation, the service said.
"Alongside our joint force, interagency and international partners, the U.S. Air Force remains laser-focused on maintaining security at HKIA [the Kabul airport] to prevent a situation like this from happening again as we safely process Afghan civilians seeking to depart the country," the service said in its statement.