Heroine of the hijack: Neerja Bhanot
True bravery emerges in the face of fear. How many of us are familiar with the name “Neerja Bhanot”? The flight attendant who was awarded the Ashok Chakra, Flight Safety Foundation, Ministry of Civil Aviation Award, Tamgha-e-Insaaniyat and many more. The lady who gave away her life upheaving compassion over cowardice and performed the duty till the very end.
Bhanot was the senior flight purser on the ill — fated Pam Am Flight 73, flying from Mumbai to USA that was hijacked by four armed men on 5thSeptember 1986 at Karachi Airport in Pakistan. The flight was hijacked while it was parked on the tarmac at Jinnah International Airport in Karachi. Among Indians, Americans and Pakistanis there were members of other nationalities as well. Four heavily armed men, dressed as airport security guards, cynically entered the aircraft while firing shots from an automatic weapon and grasped control of the plane. They intended to fly to Israel and crash the plane against a building.
As they boarded the plane, Bhanot dashed into the cockpit to warn the pilots who escaped through an overhead hatch in the cockpit. One of the terrorists asked the flight crew to collect and handover the passports of all the passengers on board. Being the senior most in charge, Neerja audaciously took it as her responsibility to save as many as 360 lives of the 380 aboard Pan Am flight. After battling for more than 17 hours, it was when the hijackers started firing and set explosives that she chose to open the emergency door to evacuate the passengers. When Neerja realised that the primary targets were Americans, she hid their passports and even discarded some of them down the rubbish shaft. Instead of saving herself by sliding down the rubbish shaft, she chose to stay put and protect 3 escaping children. That’s when she was shot from the bullets being fired by the terrorists.
While 99 of us out of the odd 100 would never surpass the high pressured situation like this, Neerja courageously saved 100s of lives from being lost at outright brutality.
Being the only daughter to Harish Bhanot and Rama Bhanot, who passed away on 1stJanuary 2008 and 5thDecember 2015, respectively; Bhanot is survived by her two brothers Akhil and Aneesh.
Neerja Bhanot will stay as a worldwide reminder of her loyalties to the passengers of the aircraft in distress portraying the finest qualities of the human spirit.
Originally published at checkinstoryblog.wordpress.com on February 19, 2016.