Neerja Bhanot, India’s youngest brave heart who saved 360 lives out of 380 passengers on board Pan Am flight 73
On September 5, 1986, when she saved 360 lives, out of 380 passengers aboard Pan Am flight 73, losing her own life, she was internationally recognized as the ‘heroine of the hijack.’ Know all about Neerja Bhanot, India’s youngest brave heart.
Pan Am Flight 73 was hijacked while it was parked on the tarmac at Jinnah International Airport in Karachi. It had arrived from Mumbai and was scheduled to depart for Frankfurt and onward to New York City. Dressed as airport security guards, four heavily-armed terrorists entered the aircraft and seized control of the plane. When Neerja communicated the cockpit crew about the hijack, they were the first to escape through an overhead hatch in the cockpit. This left Neerja Bhanot to take the charge of the flight as the senior-most crew member remaining on board. She fought for more than 17 hours and did every possible thing to save the passengers.
When she realized that the primary targets of the terrorists were American passengers, Neerja strategically hid the passenger’s passports so that she could confuse the hijackers from American and Non American Citizens and even discarding some of them down the rubbish chute. Out of 41 American passengers, only 2 were killed. The terrorists started firing openly after holding passengers hostage for 17 hours. Neerja stayed on the plane to help passengers escape, even though she could have easily escaped. Neerja was shot while shielding three children from the bullets, and just less than 25 hours before her 23rd birthday.
Government of India posthumously awarded Neerja Bhanot the Ashoka Chakra (India’s highest gallantry award for bravery in the face of the enemy, during peace time). Neerja became the youngest recipient of the award. For showing incredible kindness, Pakistan government awarded Neerja Tamgha-e-Insaaniyat. Other awards include Justice for Crimes Award, Special Courage award from US Govt. and Indian Civil Aviation Ministry’s Award.
In 2004, a stamp was released commemorating Neerja Bhanot and a square in Ghatkopar is named after her which was inaugurated by Amitabh Bachchan. Bhanot’s parents set up the Neerja Bhanot Pan Am Trust, using the insurance money and the contribution from Pan Am. Every year, two awards are given from the trust; one for a flight crew member, worldwide, who acts beyond the call of duty, and another to an Indian woman who, when faced with social injustice helps other women in similar social distress.
Neerja was a very sensitive, deeply affectionate and an extremely decent person who believed in sharing with her people all her joys but not the jolts. She had well defined principles and there was little room for compromise in that area – Neerja Bhanot’s father.
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