Zaki Anwari was identified as an Afghan teenager and national team youth footballer player who died, a journalist/historian says, in the landing gear of an American military plane that took off from Kabul airport.
Graphic video of stowaways plunging to earth from an American plane after the Taliban takeover and one twisting in a wheel well circulated on social media, adding to the searing imagery that emerged of Afghan people desperately trying to flee at the airport. The images drew analogies to the poignant “Falling Man” photo of jumpers on September 11, 2001. However, until now, the world did not have any of their names or identities.
Anwari was 19 years old. He died trying to cling to a US Air Force Boeing C-17. “Don’t depend on anyone. 😓😓 Even your shadow leaves you in darkness 💖💖 Man ____ until ___ death __ your friend __” he wrote in 2018 on Facebook.
“Very sad to hear that one of the youths who tried to leave #Kabul through grabbing the landing gear bay of a #USAF’s C-17A transport airplane few days ago was a player of #Afghanistan’s National youth soccer team, Zaki Anwari,” journalist Babak Taghvaee said in a tweet.
“His body parts were found in the landing gear bay,” added Taghvaee, who also posted video showing stowaways in the landing gear before the plane took off.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Anwari Died After He ‘Rode the Wheels of the American Airplane’ to Find a ‘Better Future’ in America
According to Al-Jazeera, Anwari died clinging to an American plane.
His football team wrote on Facebook, “Two days before and after the capture of Kabul by the Taliban, to go to America and find a better future, he rode on the wheels of the American airplane with several other compatriots who fell to the ground while flying with several other compatriots.”
General Directorate of Physical Education and Sports of Afghanistan confirmed his death on Facebook, writing, according to Al-Jazeera, “Anwari, like thousands of Afghan youths, wanted to leave the country but fell off a US plane and died.”
“Before the air crew could offload the cargo, the aircraft was surrounded by hundreds of Afghan civilians,” US Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said to Al-Jazeera.
“Faced with a rapidly deteriorating security situation around the aircraft, the C-17 crew decided to depart the airfield as quickly as possible.”
2. Anwari Played for Afghanistan’s National Youth Team
Anwari was a promising footballer player. According to BBC, Anwari played for Afghanistan’s national youth team. He played for the Khorosan Lions.
Afghanistan’s General Directorate of Physical Education and Sports released a tribute to Anwari, BBC reported.
“May he rest in heaven and pray to God for his family, friends and sports colleagues,” the sports body said.
FIFPRO, which helps world soccer players, wrote on Twitter, “Our deepest condolences go out to the family, friends and teammates of young Afghan national team footballer Zaki Anwari, who reportedly died in a fall from a U.S. plane at Kabul airport on Monday.”
According to ESPN, the former captain of the Afghan women’s football team, Khalida Popal, “urged players to delete social media, erase public identities and burn their kits” so they would be safe from the Taliban.
3. Anwari Told People, ‘You Are the Painter of Your Life’ & ‘God Is the Best Choice for the Shelter’
On Facebook, Anwari wrote that he studied at Esteqlal High School, went to Esteqlal High School, lived in Kabul, Afghanistan, and was from Kabul, Afghanistan. He shared a picture of boys in a high school, writing, “Beginning of positive transformation.”
Daily Mail described the school as “a prestigious international school in Kabul alongside the children of diplomats,” and noted that he was born after the U.S. invasion to Afghanistan, meaning he had never lived under Taliban rule. It’s a French-speaking school.
In March, he wrote, “And #God is the best choice For the shelter ♡.”
In June, he wrote, “Thank God I have this great blessing 🤲❤
If you have this great blessing, give a heart to his honor ❤
Let’s appreciate what we have.”
His top visible post contains the saying, “You’re the painter of your life. Don’t give the paint brush to anyone else!” It was written on June 29.
4. President Biden Was Asked About the Deaths But Many Are Offering Tribute Online
ABC’s George Stephanopoulos asked Joe Biden about the Afghans who fell from the planes. “We’ve all seen the pictures. We’ve seen those hundreds of people packed in a C-17. We’ve seen Afghans falling,” he said.
“That was four days ago, five days ago!” Biden responded. But it was two days ago at that point.
“What did you think when you first saw those pictures?” Stephanopoulos asked.
“What I thought was we ha– we have to gain control of this. We have to move this more quickly. We have to move in a way in which we can take control of that airport. And we did,” Biden said.
A woman wrote on Anwari’s Facebook thread, “Very sorry to lose your life in such a young age … my heart is with you and with all women , children and men that only want to live in peace in a free country.”
Wrote another, “May your soul rest in eternal peace 🥺🙏🏼.”
Irish Liverpool Reds team wrote on Twitter, “A young Afghan footballer Zaki Anwari, sadly died after falling from a US aircraft while trying to escape Kabul. This is truly heartbreaking. God rest your soul young man.”
5. Videos Captured the Chaos & Death at the Airport
Dramatic videos captured chaos and death at the Afghanistan airport in Kabul as stowaways fell off a military transport plane and five people ended up dead as people tried to flee the Taliban takeover. The death toll after the first day rose to 12 at the airport.
You can watch video of the stowaways falling and from the airport throughout this article, but be aware that some of the videos are disturbing. As the plane takes off, you can see the tiny black dots of bodies fall from it.
“This is, perhaps, one of the saddest images I’ve seen from #Afghanistan. A people who are desperate and abandoned. No aid agencies, no UN, no government. Nothing,” Nicola Careem, of the BBC, wrote on Twitter.
According to Reuters, on the first day of the Taliban takeover, five people died at the Kabul airport in addition to the stowaways as Afghan people tried desperately to flee the Taliban, which seized control of the city, as the president fled the country.
People were recorded running alongside a military plane.
One video shows people hanging desperately on to a U.S. military plane as it attempted to leave the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. There were so many people clinging to planes and crowding the airport that the U.S. military had to temporarily stop evacuations there, Reuters reported. Other video shows people crowding the tarmac.
However, the Wall Street Journal reported that two people shot at the airport by U.S. troops were “two armed men” who approached the troops. Three other bloody bodies were seen lying near a terminal, according to WSJ.
CNBC reported that most people at the airport would likely be out of luck. “If you don’t have a visa or passport, which the majority of Afghans don’t, you’re not going,” an analyst there told CNBC.
“Crowds of people desperate to escape Afghanistan stormed Kabul’s international airport, rushing onto the tarmac,” the New York Times wrote with the above video.
“People clung to the sides of military planes, even as one taxied down the runway, in a bid to flee as the Taliban takes control.”
Daily Mail reported that three stowaways plunged to their deaths from an United States Air Force transport plane, bringing the death toll at the airport to eight. Daily Mail reported that bodies believed to be of the stowaways were recovered from a nearby Kabul roof.
More video showed people fleeing outside the airport as gunfire erupted.
One airport video showed a helicopter doing crowd control.
On the morning of August 16, 2021, the chaos at the airport continued.
The U.S. Department of Defense wrote in a statement, “At present we are completing a series of steps to secure the Hamid Karzai International Airport to enable the safe departure of U.S. and allied personnel from Afghanistan via civilian and military flights. Over the next 48 hours, we will have expanded our security presence to nearly 6,000 troops, with a mission focused solely on facilitating these efforts and will be taking over air traffic control. Tomorrow and over the coming days, we will be transferring out of the country thousands of American citizens who have been resident in Afghanistan, as well as locally employed staff of the U.S. mission in Kabul and their families and other particularly vulnerable Afghan nationals. And we will accelerate the evacuation of thousands of Afghans eligible for U.S. Special Immigrant Visas, nearly 2,000 of whom have already arrived in the United States over the past two weeks. For all categories, Afghans who have cleared security screening will continue to be transferred directly to the United States. And we will find additional locations for those yet to be screened.”