- A private charter carrying US evacuees out of Afghanistan landed in Chicago on Tuesday.
- The plane was initially denied entry by the US State Department, according to organizers.
- “They were trapped for the moment and it sucked, but they were at least safe,” a volunteer told Insider.
A private charter flight carrying more than 100 American citizens out of Afghanistan landed safely in the US on Thursday, despite a bureaucratic roadblock along the way.
The group of US citizens, green card holders, and special immigrant visa holders departed the Kabul airport on Tuesday after receiving clearance from the Taliban, according to Jen Wilson, a volunteer with the civilian rescue organization Project Dynamo.
The organization believes theirs is the first private rescue mission to escape Afghanistan since the US military left the country at the end of August.
But shortly after departing the country earlier this week, the mission encountered another hurdle: the Department of Homeland Security would not allow the charter flight to land in the US.
As soon as the plane took off, Wilson said the crew’s flight clearance for John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York was revoked. When the plane rerouted to Dulles International Airport in Virginia, the same thing happened.
“And then we went to Philly and Philly did the same, and then suddenly it was all ports of entry,” Wilson said.
“It was heartbreaking. It was infuriating,” she said. “Because we had just caught the high after we got them out and saved them. We were all crying the minute they went wheels up from Kabul and were so relieved.”
A spokesperson from the State Department acknowledged the situation on Tuesday, telling The Hill that the agency was working to vet the travelers after they were stranded in the United Arab Emirates. Among the evacuated passengers were 59 children younger than 18 and 16 kids under the age of 3, according to Project Dynamo.
Wilson said their organization was initially told private charters weren’t allowed into the US. After pushing back, the State Department reportedly cited a measles outbreak as cause for concern. But Wilson said all passengers on board had been vaccinated against the measles, mumps, and rubella. They were also tested and vaccinated against COVID-19.
Despite the setback, Wilson said the passengers were just grateful to be free of the Taliban.
“They were trapped for the moment and it sucked, but they were at least safe,” she said.
The State Department eventually granted the group entry into the US, saying US Embassy staff in the United Arab Emirates worked around the clock to verify passenger information and coordinate with officials on the ground to ensure everyone was vetted before arriving in the US.
The group’s plane landed in Chicago on Thursday afternoon. Project Dynamo celebrated the arrival on Instagram.
Wilson said her organization was ecstatic to see American citizens back home safe, and pledged that Project Dynamo would continue to run evacuations out of Afghanistan as long as it has the money to do so.