A month after desperate Afghans clung to the side of a moving US military plane leaving Kabul airport as the Taliban entered the capital, families are struggling to make sense of their loved one’s gesture.
Tucked into the wheel of a lumbering US Air Force cargo plane was Fida Mohammad, a 24-year-old dentist who got married last year in an extravagant ceremony that cost his family $13,000.
He had once been full of hope, his family said, and his dream of opening a dental clinic in Kabul had become a reality.
When the Taliban seized Kabul on August 15, all future hopes seemed to disappear, his father Painda Mohammad told The Associated Press news agency.
Painda still struggles to understand what his son was thinking when he climbed into the wheel well. He spends hours imagining his son’s final minutes, the fear he must have felt as the earth below him began to disappear and the wheels swung in, knowing he had no choice but to let go.
He is racked with guilt, fearing his son took such an enormous risk because he wanted to repay the large loan his father had taken out for the wedding.
On the ground, Abdullah Waiz was asleep in his home at the time and was awakened by a powerful noise. His first thought was an explosion, then rushed outside to find his neighbour gesturing towards the roof. He told him of the two bodies that had tumbled from the sky.
Together, they collected the remains on a cloth and carried it to a nearby mosque.
One of the bodies was Fida’s. He had stuffed his father’s name and number in his pocket. He had landed on that roof with a young man named Safiullah Hotak, suggesting they clung to each other during the fall.
Running along the C-17 on the tarmac was also 17-year-old Zaki Anwari, a rising star on Afghanistan’s national football team. He would spend hours watching his hero, Lionel Messi, play, his older brother Zakir Anwari, 20, recalled.
As the Taliban took over Kabul, social media were inundated with posts describing the Taliban’s harsh rule of the late 1990s, when the Taliban had banned most sports, including football.
Seeing his dream of competing internationally on the Afghan team being crushed by the return of their strict interpretation of Islam, Zaki headed to the airport with an elder brother and a cousin.
He was supposed to watch the car while the cousin, who had worked for an American company, tried to get into the airport. Instead, he climbed over the airport wall and called his other brother Zakir, informing him he would soon get on a plane.
Zakir pleaded with him not to go, reminding him he didn’t have his passport or ID card. “What will you do in America,” he asked.
In a separate phone call, his mother also begged him to return home.
Zaki instead raced alongside the aircraft as it picked up speed but was knocked from the side and fell under the wheel of the C-17, witnesses told the family later.
The scene of that tragic takeoff on August 16 has come to symbolise the chaotic end to the US’s 20 years of war in Afghanistan.
Videos taken by Afghans on the tarmac show hundreds running alongside it, and perhaps a dozen people sitting on top of the wheel well, though it is not known how many jumped off before the plane lifted off.
Much remains unknown about what happened and how many people were killed.
The US military has said it found human remains still in the wheel well of the aircraft when it landed in Qatar but did not specify how many people they belonged to.
The C-17 was bringing in supplies for the evacuation effort at the airport but was surrounded by a crowd of Afghans desperate to leave the country as it landed. Fearing the plane would be overwhelmed, the crew decided to take off again without unloading the cargo.
The US has yet to complete its investigation into the day. It remains unknown how many people have died in the incident.