The first Hercules evacuation flight for Australian citizens and visa-holders out of Afghanistan departed with just 26 passengers onboard, despite the aircraft’s 128-person capacity.
In a statement, Defence said that the C-130J “departed with all available and willing Australian citizens and visa holders at the airport”.
Current estimates suggest Australia seeks to rescue up to 600 Australians and Afghans from the country.
The RAAF C-130J Hercules aircraft landed at Kabul Airport overnight to perform the first evacuation, as well as drop off personnel to facilitate future flights out of the Taliban-controlled country.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the flight touched down in the UAE at 10:40am Canberra time on Wednesday, and added that it is the first of many flights to get people out of Kabul in the coming days.
“This is not a simple process,” he said. “This was the first of what will be many flights, subject to clearance and weather. We will bring out as many people as we can, as quickly and safely as we can.”
PM Morrison said the initial flight of just 26 people included Australian citizens, Afghan nationals with Australian visas, and one foreign official who was working for an international agency.
“The transfers are done to our base in the Emirates, where capacity has already been established with medical support available, to provide that medical support and to process their further onward transfer to Australia,” the Prime Minister said.
He explained that these rescue flights were not counted under Australia’s current international arrival caps, and that separate quarantine measures are being introduced in Australia to accommodate for these arrivals.
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The PM also stressed the importance of proper processing of passengers of these emergency flights.
His comment comes after images were released of nearly 650 Afghans piling into a US Air Force C-17 cargo aircraft, after hundreds of people pulled themselves into the plane via the aircraft’s half-open ramp before take-off.
The plane took off and landed safely in Qatar. A US official said it was one of a number of cargo planes that took off with hundreds of people onboard.
Sources told the ABC that Australians in Afghanistan were told last night to travel to Kabul Airport for processing and that another evacuation flight could be scheduled as soon as Wednesday.
“Australian government officials on the ground are working to facilitate the safe movement of designated evacuees for subsequent flights,” Defence said.
On Monday, a KC-30A also departed from RAAF Base Amberley bound for the United Arab Emirates to assist in the evacuation of Australian citizens and visa holders from Afghanistan.
Over 250 Defence personnel will aid in the evacuation effort, which is being co-ordinated with international partners.
Two RAAF C-17A Globemasters will also deploy to the Middle East to assist efforts.
In a statement, Defence said, “The situation in Afghanistan remains highly volatile and dangerous.
“Defence is taking all necessary precautions to protect its people and those authorised for evacuation. The mission will be constantly assessed against the latest developments.”
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