Because the soldiers and their families could not fit on a single 727 flight, another trip would be needed.
On the second trip, they had to stop all movement on the ground at Kabul and could not load and depart quickly because U.S. forces were executing a departure ceremony for the 13 Americans who died during the bombing at Abbey Gate. Once cleared to load and leave, the second flight saw 329 souls packed aboard the old 727. All of the refugees were taken back to Tajikistan where they would wait in a tent community until a further airlift arranged by the U.S. government could move them on to other locations once the evacuation of Kabul was complete. The passengers didn’t even know where they were when they landed, they were just happy to be out of Afghanistan and away from the Taliban.
While Safe Air and Irene’s crew are no strangers to flying into dangerous areas in Africa, basically saving hundreds of people, entire families, from the clutches of the Taliban certainly must have been very rewarding. Still, an old 727 loaded with over three hundred people, while not having the millions of dollars worth of defensive capabilities that their military airlifter counterparts have, and flying into what is basically a war zone under extreme terrorist threat in the middle of the day, takes guts.
Irene and her crew are one of many groups of heroes that risked life and limb for others during this tragic endcap to the two-decades-long war in Afghanistan. Once the last American boots leave Kabul and the dust settles, we know that there will be many other incredible stories to tell. But this one, about the little old 727 that could, is definitely worth spreading.
You can check out Erika Gibson’s Mail and Guardian piece on Irene’s missions into Kabul, which includes more details and some great photos, here.
Contact the author: [email protected]