RAF pilot narrowly missed a crowded bus full of Afghan refugees at Kabul airport who were stuck on the runway.
An RAF pilot narrowly missed smashing his aircraft into a crowded bus carrying evacuees at Kabul airport by about 3m (10ft) after the vehicle suddenly steered into his path on the runway as he was taking off.
‘We didn’t think you were going to make it’, explained the pilot.
Wing Commander Kev Latchman revealed military air traffic controllers had been praying for him when they saw his C-17 transport aircraft hurtling towards a line of three vehicles that had taken a wrong turn while trying to reach another evacuation flight.
“At this point, we were doing about 95 knots and they were about a thousand feet ahead of us,” he said, speaking from his base while back at RAF Brize Norton airbase in Oxfordshire.
“We realised that we wouldn’t have been able to reject [abort] the take-off, because if I tried to reject then I would have basically… taken out the bus and that doesn’t really bear thinking about.”
He decided he had to continue with the take-off but then realised that there was not enough distance between his aircraft and the bus to be able to reach the required speed to get airborne – what is known as rotate speed.
“So I said, I think we’re going to need to rotate early. And the other pilot agreed. We started to rotate the aircraft about 20 knots earlier than rotate speed.
“We got airborne and we just missed the bus by probably about 10, 15ft, “- he said a member of his crew had also put the distance at about 10ft.
Making things even more of a challenge, the airman was having to fly without any runway lights because the power at the airport had failed.
The incident happened on 26 August at a time of acute tensions following a suicide bomb attack hours earlier that had ripped through crowds of people who had been waiting for evacuation flights.
Wing Commander Latchman, who commands 99 Squadron, said he had apparently been “quite calm” while dealing with the potential bus disaster “because you’ve got no choice”.
The last plane carrying US troops left Kabul airport just after midnight on Tuesday, marking the end of a two-decade military presence in Afghanistan.
It also marked the end of a two-week evacuation frenzy as countries scrambled to get foreign citizens and at-risk Afghans out while the US still had some control of Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport.
President Joe Biden said the US military airlift managed to extract more than 120,000 people, calling it an “extraordinary success”.
But in his speech, Mr Biden failed to mention the harrowing scenes of mass crowds inside and outside the airport, desperate people clinging to the outside of planes during take-off and thousands being pushed back as they tried to climb fences.
Then, last week, an Islamic State bomb tore through the desperate waiting crowds, killing more than 100 people.
Around 100 US citizens were left behind along with countless vulnerable Afghans including former government workers, women, minorities, LGBT people and those who worked with foreign troops and in embassies.
For those still trying to get out, leaving will be both extremely difficult and dangerous.
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