Andy Livingstone saw the baby fall from her mother’s arms in one of the most recent evacuations from Afghanistan. Many on the flight could not stand in shock and exhaustion, he said
Image: Rowan Griffiths / Daily Mirror)
A heroic RAF sergeant on one of the last mercy flights from Kabul told how he held an Afghan girl for an hour because her mother was so exhausted that she could no longer protect her.
Loadmaster Andy Livingstone from Scotland saw the baby fall from her mother’s arms during one of the recent evacuations and shortly after the explosion that killed 170 people.
His RAF flight carried 153 locals who fled brutal Taliban rule out of fear for their lives, and many were barely able to withstand shock and exhaustion.
The 31-year-old Scottish married father of two was responsible for loading people and things onto the RAF flight in the final hours of the historic evacuation of Kabul.
In an emotional interview, Sgt Livingston of 70 Squadron recalls: “We were all dressed and I noticed this family, a mother and a father, three sisters and a brother.
“One of the nurses was in the early stages of shock or exhaustion so without the medics we just gave everything to feed her and I took care of Dad to make sure he could give food and water to his family.
“A little later I see something fall on the floor in the corner of my eye. I saw the mother crawl and found that a baby had rolled off her lap.
“She was just so exhausted that she couldn’t keep her eyes open, couldn’t hold up her arms.
“I gave the baby back to her, asked a few questions, buckled the baby up as best I could using seat belts to hold it in place.
“It was the same again within minutes. I see the same thing happening.
US Air Force Europe-Africa vi)
“I just did what anyone else would have done. I have two little girls myself and you just want to help.
“So I went and said you really need to sleep – please let me take this baby off you for half an hour so you can close your eyes – anything that makes you feel better.”
The traumatized Afghan lady looked him in the eye, unable to communicate.
Sgt Livingstone recalls, “I can’t say there was gratitude, she was a woman who had seen her family go through too much and looked at me as if to say, ‘It’s okay ? Can i go to sleep now Will my baby be okay with you? ‘
“I’ll never forget it … I don’t think I can describe it meaningfully.”
The RAF sergeant held the little baby on the flight, which was so full he was out of seat, for an hour while he snapped cargo straps to keep his balance during the two hours to Dubai.
Rowan Griffiths / Daily Mirror)
He says, “This baby weighed absolutely nothing and you think how exhausted this poor woman must be to be unable to carry this weight.
“We put headphones on the baby because it’s a noisy airplane and let the little girl sleep for an hour while the mother did a kip too.
“It wasn’t a problem – anyone would have done the same to give her some respite.”
He now describes the dangerous three flights of grace in which he has participated as the most rewarding of his 10-year career, which he has served around the world.
He says, “It’s easy to see numbers when it comes to refugees and all the labels, but once they’re on and you look closely
“It was just people. People had their little girls in their best party clothes and little boys in their most beautiful clothes, their good shoes.
“We were just trying to make it less difficult, nans got candy and dads did the fathers thing to make sure the kids just sat down.
“Mothers were just trying to take care of children.
“Everyone did what they could and I thought if this was my family what would I want?
“What could I do to make these few hours a little less scary?
“These are families who have only packed one bag for one family, a backpack for five, all they need is a little humanity.”
When he finally returned the baby to her mother, he said the contact with the Afghan lady was “non-verbal” and “everyone nods and smiles”.
His flight was packed with many people still bearing the wounds and cuts from the earlier suicide explosion.
He says, “I’m not going to say it wasn’t emotional – you think about it, I was reflected in the father and the mother in the mother.
Rowan Griffiths / Daily Mirror)
“All of these kids have a smile on their face after everything they’ve been through – they just want to be kids – that’s superimposed on your own life.
“It really breaks your heart and there are no words to describe how humble it is and how grateful I am for the life I lead.
“Bringing back the Afghan nationals was the most rewarding thing I’ve done in 10 years just because I knew you made a difference.
“There were two-week-old baby grandmothers in wheelchairs, people on stretchers, people with cuts on their arms and heads from the explosion – people in their deepest ebb.
“These were families who really wanted to stay together.”