Full-Circle Moment: Pilot Who Fled Afghanistan as a Child is Bringing Afghan Refugees to America

Zak Khogyani, who fled Afghanistan as a child, is now a pilot for United Airlines — and is helping bring Afghan refugees hope as he flies them to safety in America.

Zak Khogyani has been all over the world and seen some of the most amazing sites to be seen — from Antelope Canyon in Northern Arizona, all the way to the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland or a stunning sunrise above the Aegean Sea on the Greek Island of Santorini. 

Khogyani is a pilot for United Airlines as well as a photographer, capturing moments as he makes his way around the world. However, one of the most touching images is not something he saw in nature. Rather, it was something he saw while volunteering last summer during a nine-hour flight to the U.S.

The plane was filled with Afghan refugees, and Khogyani saw something interesting as he looked around at the anxious, tired faces of children sitting with their parents: he saw himself. “I was nine years old when I experienced similar circumstances,” the 53-year-old told CNN. “It all came rushing back. It was harder than I thought.”

Khogyani has been a pilot for United Airlines for 27 years. When the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in August, the Pentagon called on the Civil Reserve Air Fleet to help supply commercial planes to evacuate Americans and Afghan allies. Khogyani wrote to the CEO of United Airlines, volunteering his help.

Khogyani grew up in Afghanistan but fled the country with his family in 1977 at just nine years old. His family was involved in Afghan politics and began receiving death threats, so they decided to seek safety elsewhere.

44 years later, Khogyani accompanied 1,000 Afghan passengers on three flights to the US, acting as an interpreter for refugees, greeting them as they boarded the plane. “Welcome,” he said in Pashto, their own language. “I hope you come joyfully.”

“There were a lot of kids on the flight, and every single one in one way or the other reminded me of our own escape,” he said.

Khogyani is proud of America and what it has meant for him. “The United States is the land of opportunity,” said Khogyani. “If you are willing to work hard no one is going to stop you from having what you want to achieve.” He also said that the evacuees repeatedly told him that they gave him hope for their own futures. “A lot of them told me that they were proud of me,” he said, “and that I gave them hope that the future will be bright.”

Image source: CNN