New Delhi, Sept 7: Neerja Bhanot was the fearless airline hostess who saved the existence of numerous travelers and group individuals. On 5th September denotes the demise commemoration of this legend whose birth commemoration we praise today!
Bhanot was the Senior Flight Purser on Pan Am Flight 73 flying from Mumbai to the United States via Karachi and Frankfurt, which was hijacked by four armed men on 5 September 1986 at Karachi airport in Pakistan.
The aircraft was carrying 380 passengers and 13 crew members. The terrorists wanted to fly to Cyprus with the goal of freeing Palestinian prisoners in Cyprus. Bhanot was able to alert the cockpit crew as soon as the hijackers boarded the plane, and as the plane was on the apron, the three-member cockpit crew of pilot, co-pilot and the flight engineer fled from the aircraft through an overhead hatch in the cockpit. As the most senior cabin crew member, Bhanot took charge of the situation inside the plane.
In the early minutes of the hijacking, the terrorists instructed Bhanot to collect the passports of all the passengers so that they could identify the other Americans on board. She and the other attendants under her charge hid the passports of the remaining 43 Americans on board, some under a seat and the rest down a rubbish chute so that the hijackers could not differentiate between American and non-American passengers.
After 17 hours, the hijackers opened fire and set off explosives. Bhanot opened one of the airplane doors, and even though she could have been the first one to jump out and flee from the aircraft, she did not do so and instead started helping the other passengers escape. According to a surviving passenger, “She was guiding the passengers to the emergency exit. That is when the terrorists were firing constantly fearing a commando attack. They saw Neerja relentlessly trying to help three unaccompanied children, among others, out and that is when they caught her by her ponytail and shot her point blank. She was recognized internationally as “the heroine of the hijacking” and became the youngest recipient of the Ashok Chakra Award, India’s most prestigious gallantry award for bravery during peacetime.