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The body of an Afghan who was desperately trying to flee Kabul as it fell to the Taliban has been found inside the landing gear of an aircraft, according to US media reports.
The body was found shortly after an American C-17 aircraft took off from Hamid Karzai International and it had rendered the landing gear “inoperable,” the Washington Post reported.
US authorities have not yet confirmed the report, but it follows harrowing scenes of Afghans clinging on to US aircraft as they departed Hamid Karzai International on Monday.
Video footage has also shown people falling from the aircraft to their deaths as those trying to flee the chaos lost their grip on the plane’s exterior.
John Kirby, a spokesman for the Pentagon, has said that the US is investigating reports of Afghans dying as a result of attempts to stow away on departing planes.
Experts say the risk of death from attempting to stow away on an aircraft is extremely high. In addition to the risk of falling from the plane’s exterior, the temperature drops to as low as -61C once the jet is in the air.
This brings the risk of hypothermia, while at high altitudes it is very difficult for lungs to function normally, which can lead to the stowaway losing consciousness.
It came as the crew of a US military cargo plane was praised for keeping cool heads and flying 640 Afghans out of Kabul in one of the largest single airlifts in history, despite chaotic scenes at the airport and far more people on board than scheduled.
In what has been described as an act of “compassion,” the crew of a C-17 Globemaster III “made the decision to go” even though dozens of people jumped onto a half-open ramp at the rear of the plane.
Everyone who made it had already been cleared for evacuation, but when the pilot told air traffic controllers that he thought there were 800 people on board, they responded: “Holy cow. Good job getting off the ground.”
Incredible images show hundreds of people packed into the main body of the plane, which used callsign Reach 871 and flew to Qatar.
Instead of trying to force people off the aircraft, “the crew made the decision to go,” a defence official said.
“Approximately 640 Afghan civilians disembarked the aircraft when it arrived at its destination” at the Al Udeid Air Base, they added.
Flight tracking software shows the plane belongs to the 436th Air Wing, based at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
“About 640 Afghan refugees were on the aircraft,” said Simran Jeet Singh, an American writer and activist.
“Instead of forcing them off, the crew felt compassion and made the decision to go. Incredible and heart-wrenching.”
The record number of people carried by a C-17 Globemaster is thought to be 670, when people were evacuated to Manila from Tacloban following Super Typhoon Haiyan, which hit the Philippines in November 2013.
The aircraft can theoretically carry a maximum 171,000 pounds of cargo, just enough for 800 people averaging 200 pounds each. But in terms of space, it’s only designed to seat 134 soldiers with their equipment.
The US continues to ferry thousands of people out of Afghanistan, but Germany was facing criticism overnight after a report in Bild claimed that one of its carriers took just seven passengers.
Their A400M Atlas can hold a payload of 37 tons and regularly flies more than 100 fully loaded troops, but when it took off from Kabul on Monday, there were less than 10 passengers on board, Bild said.
At least 57 embassy staff and 88 other Germans should have been flown out, but they had not yet arrived at the airport and the plane did not wait, the paper added. It is not clear if the German government has responded to the claims.
It is likely to be another busy day at Kabul airport on Tuesday, but the US is keen to avoid the chaotic and deadly events that took place on Monday.
Seven people died as desperate Afghans surged onto the runway, some clinging to the wheels of departing US aircraft. Two fell to their deaths after planes took off.
America deployed another 1,000 troops and Britain around 200 on Monday night in a push to secure the airport amid the threat of Islamist extremists exploiting security lapses with suicide bombings.