We Spoke to the Family of the Afghan Teenager Who Fell to His Death From a US Military Plane

The 17-year-old had hoped to escape Taliban rule and go to Canada or the United States.
August 18, 2021, 2:58pm
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Hundreds of people gather near a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport plane at a perimeter at the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Aug. 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Shekib Rahmani)

On Monday, 17-year-old Reza left home with his 16-year-old brother, Kabeer. 

It was the day after the Taliban came to Kabul, triggering the collapse of the Afghan government. The two brothers fled for the airport in hopes of escaping, fearing life under Taliban rule.

Neither of them made it back home.

“We are really upset that we’ve lost two,” a family member told VICE World News. “We’ve found the body of one of them, but the other one is still missing.”

Reza’s death was caught on video. In harrowing clips that went viral on social media, specks in the sky—later confirmed to be people—are seen falling off a U.S. military plane taking off from Kabul airport.

One of them was later confirmed to be Reza.

The family has recovered Reza’s body but has yet to find Kabeer, who’s still missing. VICE World News has changed the names of both boys since they are minors, and to protect their families.

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

“His mother is devastated, she is passing out every now and then.”

The boys had heard a rumor from their neighbors that 20,000 people would be relocated to Canada or the United States, spurring their decision to try their luck at the airport. 

“Without telling anyone in the house, he took his personal ID, and left to the airport,” the family member said.

Reza was one of the many desperate Afghans seen clambering up the exterior of a military plane and clinging to it as it took off, in videos that have gripped the world. At least three people reportedly died after falling off the flying C-17 aircraft, while human remains were found in the landing gear of a plane of the same model. It is unclear whether the remains, that of an Afghan person, were recovered from the same aircraft from which Reza fell off.

“Everyone is trying to run away,” the family member said. “It is in fear of the Taliban, they are killing people. They have all left to the airport from lack of jobs and opportunity. They want to go abroad.”

As Kabul turned chaotic amid the Taliban occupation, the family member said they called Reza’s phone but somebody else had picked up. The person on the other end of the line informed the family that he had found Reza’s phone. Worried, several members of the family went to the Kabul airport to find the brothers.

There, witnesses who saw people fall off a plane, tracked down the bodies and carried them out of the airport. The family identified the mangled body of Reza.

“His legs and arms were gone. I brought him back myself,” said the family member.

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The family member said they are appealing to media to help find Kabeer.

The brothers are the eldest of eight siblings, and are part of a young generation of Afghans who have never experienced life under Taliban rule. Young Afghans are terrified of losing freedoms they’ve been accustomed to, such as being able to go to school, enjoy music and movies, and speak their minds. 

Photos of Reza shared with VICE World News showed him enjoying the snow as a young child, wearing Western clothing, and hanging out with a cousin. He enjoyed boxing for fun, playing with his brothers, and was a high school student. Friends on social media grieved his death.

The Taliban ruled a reign of terror from 1996 until 2001, when the U.S.-backed government overthrew the Islamic fundamentalist group. The Taliban regime was characterized by human rights abuses and a hard-line interpretation of Sharia law, including justice by way of stoning, public executions, and amputations.

As the Taliban came to the capital signaling a complete takeover on Sunday, Kabul’s international airport became a site of chaos. Afghans chased planes down the tarmac and clambered onto plane gantries in hopes of leaving the country, as foreign governments raced to evacuate their diplomas and embassy staff. 

On Wednesday, U.S. troops secured the Kabul airport and sought to speed up the evacuation effort. But access to the airport remained uncertain and the U.S. government said it could not guarantee the safety of American citizens who made the trip.

With reports from Mohammed Rasool.