Air Force clears crew in deaths of Afghans who clung to plane during takeoff

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The U.S. Air Force concluded this week that its service members were not at fault for the death of several Afghans who died during the chaotic withdrawal from Kabul after they fell from the exterior of a military plane or were found crushed in the wheels. 

Air Force officials said Monday they would not seek disciplinary action against the crew members who flew a C-17 cargo plane from Kabul to Qatar last August following an investigation by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.

AFGHANS WHO CLUNG TO DEPARTING US PLANE FALL TO THEIR DEATH IN CHAOS THAT LEFT 7 DEAD: OFFICIALS

In this Aug. 21, 2021, image provided by the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Airmen and U.S. Marines guide evacuees aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III in support of the Afghanistan evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. 

In this Aug. 21, 2021, image provided by the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Airmen and U.S. Marines guide evacuees aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III in support of the Afghanistan evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan.  (Senior Airman Brennen Lege/U.S. Air Force via AP)

Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said the investigation found the crew exercised “sound judgment” amid an “unprecedented” crisis after dozens of Afghans swarmed the military plane as it attempted to take off. 

Cellphone footage showed two dark dots falling from a C-17 plane as it took off. 

The footage was later determined to have depicted Afghan individuals falling seconds apart from one another after they attempted to cling onto the exterior of the plane.

Military officials also found the remains of at least one individual in the plane’s wheel wells after it landed in Qatar. 

It remains unclear how many Afghans died as they attempted to flee Kabul following the Taliban takeover by desperately clinging to the plane. 

AFGHANISTAN’S TALIBAN URGED BY UN SECURITY COUNCIL TO LIFT RESTRICTIONS ON WOMEN, GIRLS

Hundreds of people run alongside a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport plane, some climbing on the plane, as it moves down a runway of the international airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Monday.

Hundreds of people run alongside a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport plane, some climbing on the plane, as it moves down a runway of the international airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Monday. (AP)

Though two dots were seen falling from the plane, two bodies were found to have landed on the same rooftop – suggesting they fell at the same time. 

One of the bodies was identified as 24-year-old dentist Fida Mohammad, while the other was later identified as a young man named Safiullah Hotak.

It is unclear if a third individual was found after falling from the same aircraft. 

At least one individual was also found to have been crushed to death on the tarmac by one of the C-17’s wheels.

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A U.S. Marine with the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Central Command (SPMAGTF-CR-CC) escorts a kid to his family during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 24. U.S. service members and coalition forces are assisting the Department of State with a non-combatant evacuation operation (NEO) in Afghanistan. 

A U.S. Marine with the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Central Command (SPMAGTF-CR-CC) escorts a kid to his family during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 24. U.S. service members and coalition forces are assisting the Department of State with a non-combatant evacuation operation (NEO) in Afghanistan.  (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Victor Mancilla)

Military officials determined the Air Force crew members acted “in compliance with applicable rules of engagement specific to the event and the overall law of armed conflict,” said Stefanek.

The spokeswoman referred to the events as “tragic” but said the crew “acted appropriately” in deciding “to get airborne as quickly as possible.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.