An airman has revealed how he cradled a two-week-old Afghan baby on a UK evacuation flight out of Kabul to let the mother rest after she accidentally twice dropped her daughter out of exhaustion.
Royal Air Force Sergeant Andy Livingstone, 31, said he spotted the family, which also comprised a husband and three other children, when they boarded his RAF transport plane just hours after a suicide attack targeted the evacuation effort at Kabul airport.
“You could see all of them were exhausted,” he said in an interview about the encounter on 26 August.
“The eldest daughter was quite clearly in shock. We were trying to administer just basic first aid – a bit of water, a bit of food – to try to bring her out of that state.”
His job as an air loadmaster on the A400M aircraft was to help strap lines of frightened Afghan refugees into their places on the plane and look after them during the initial flight from Kabul to an airbase in the United Arab Emirates.
They would then take a separate flight to the UK.
“Already I had my eye on that family, making sure they’re going to be looked after for the next few hours,” Sergeant Livingstone said.
“Then out the corner of my eye I see something drop on the floor and as I look over, bless her, this woman is picking up her two-week-old child.
“I go over and try and strap the baby closer, using seatbelts, anything I can just to take it easier for mum and baby – and within a couple of minutes, it happened again.
“At that point, it was just the only thing I could think of to do was just plead with the family to let me take the baby for half an hour or however long they’d let me just so she could have enough sleep to gain a little bit more energy to hold her baby.”
A photo of Sergeant Livingstone – himself a father of two young girls – shows him carefully cradling the child, who has been given a large pair of ear defenders to protect her ears from the loud noise of the aircraft engine.
“You’re holding a baby that weighs nothing – absolutely nothing – it was two weeks old and you think: how exhausted must this poor woman be to not be able to carry her own child? It’s a basic instinct and she just couldn’t do it anymore and it was an awful thing to see but a privilege to be able to help,” he said.
Sergeant Livingstone said this all happened while the plane was in mid-flight.
“For 40 minutes to an hour I just stood there looking at a baby as I would if it were my own or one of my friends,” he said.
“Yeah, it was something I won’t ever forget… There was no real interaction. But just to see a baby open their eyes and a little bit of eye contact just brings being a dad right back to you.”
Once the mother had rested, he handed the baby back to her.
Asked whether she was all right, the airman said: “We really did try and look after them – just a bit of water and energy and a bit of respite made all the difference. For the couple of hours left of the trip, she was grand.”
He said the memories of his experience helping that family and many others during Operation Pitting, the name given to the UK’s evacuation effort, would stay with him forever.
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“Coming back to my two kids, my little girls, was one of the most emotional moments of my life let alone my career,” he said.
“Looking at what these people have had to sacrifice to get out of the country will make me forever grateful for what I have.”
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