Afghan Who Fell to Death from US Plane Was a Youth Soccer Player

Zaki Anwari was one of at least six people who died after clinging to aircraft departing Kabul airport.
August 20, 2021, 4:52am
Young Afghan Athlete Who Fell From US Plane Wanted to Decide His Own Fate
Zaki Anwari had sought to flee Afghanistan in search of a better life. Photo courtesy of General Directorate of Physical Education & Sports of Afghanistan

Afghan authorities said one of several people who died after trying to hang on to the outside of a U.S. military plane leaving Kabul on Monday was Zaki Anwari, member of Afghanistan’s national youth soccer team.

The teenager “fell and died” while clinging to the aircraft in a desperate attempt to flee the country, according to ​​Afghan news agency Ariana. The country’s official sports federation confirmed his death in a Facebook post.

Thousands of people flocked to Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport this week in a frantic bid to escape Afghanistan, following the Taliban’s recapture of the capital and much of the rest of the country. Shocking footage from the airport on Monday showed throngs of people swarming the tarmac, running alongside a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport plane and clambering onto its fuselage as it prepared to take off. 

Anwari, it seems, was among them.

The Facebook statement by the General Directorate of Physical Education & Sports of Afghanistan featured photos of Anwari in his training gear and in a suit. Beside them is what appears to be a screen grab from a video showing at least two specks falling off a U.S. military plane as it ascended from Kabul airport. One of the dots is encircled in the image.

Aref Peyman, the head of media relations for the sports federation and for Afghanistan’s Olympic Committee, told the New York Times that Anwari came from a low-income family in Kabul and had worked hard, while also attending school, to achieve his dream of being on the national soccer team.

“He was kind and patient, but like so many of our young people he saw the arrival of the Taliban as the end of his dreams and sports opportunities,” Peyman said. “He had no hope and wanted a better life.”

Anwari is one of at least six people who have died while trying to escape Afghanistan on departing aircraft. Three bodies have been found on the tarmac of Hamid Karzai International Airport since Monday, one of whom VICE World News confirmed to be a 17-year-old boy.

That boy’s family said that he left home with his 16-year-old brother after hearing a rumour from their neighbours that 20,000 people would be relocated to Canada or the United States. The 16-year-old remains missing.

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“We hope to find him dead or alive so it will console our family,” said the family member. “We are worried, and we went from one hospital to another, but we didn’t get any information.”

Two deformed bodies have also been found on a roof some 8 kilometers away from the airport, reportedly of two men who also fell off a plane. The U.S. Air Force has also confirmed that human remains were found in the landing gear of an aircraft after it arrived in Qatar.

Anwari last updated his Facebook profile on June 30, with a photo of himself wearing a suit, posing with his hand on the lapel of his jacket.

In the accompanying message, he wrote, “You’re the painter of your live. Don’t give the paint brush to anyone else!”

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