Afghanistan’s Falling Man: The 17-Year-Old Soccer Star Who Plunged From a U.S. Military Jet

  • A statement from the U.S Air Force about the incident
  • How many people fell from the aircraft to their death

Hundreds of Afghans swarmed the runway of Hamid Karzai International Airport attempting to climb onto a U.S Air Force transport aircraft. 17-year-old Zaki Anwari made his way to the front and clambered onto the plane’s landing gear. As it accelerated past 120 miles an hour, he held tight.  The high school senior and attacking midfielder for the National youth soccer team knew that if he did not flee Afghanistan, he would never be able to play for the National team again. Millions of people saw footage of what happened next: a defining image from America’s chaotic exit from a 20-year war that had an unsettling resonance with the 9/11 attacks that ignited it. As the C-17 Globemaster III arched skyward over Kabul, Mr. Anwari fell.

At least two other young men died that day, according to aid agencies. Another fell from the plane around the same time as Mr. Anwari and a third was crushed by the retracting landing gear. Several other young men gripping onto the C-17 would have shared their fate if they hadn’t leapt seconds before the wheels left the runway. In a written statement, the U.S. Air Force said it was conducting an investigation to “better understand how events unfolded,” and “to prevent a situation like this from happening again.”

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