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Neerja Bhanot, senior flight attendant on the Pan Am

Neerja Bhanot, senior flight attendant on the Pan Am  India, who was shot and killed while saving hundreds of passengers on board a Pan Am plane which terrorists had hijacked at Karachi international airport in Pakistan on September 5, 1986.

Neerja Bhanot conferred 'Bharat Gaurav Award' in London

Chandigarh, July 3, 2016: Braveheart flight purser late Neerja Bhanot was conferred the 'Bharat Gaurav Award' at a function at the House of Commons in London, a spokesman said here on Sunday.

The award, instituted by Sanksriti Yuva Sanstha -- a Jaipur-headquartered NGO with an international presence, was received by Neerja's brothers Akhil and Aneesh Bhanot at the Westminster Parliament building in London.

Baroness Sandip Verma, a member of the House of Lords and the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for International Development, presented the award.

The award was conferred on Neerja for "distinguished services to the nation and outstanding individual achievements", the spokesman said.

After receiving the award, Neerja's brother Aneesh said: "The Bharat Gaurav Award will inspire other people, especially the younger generation, to follow the principles of Neerja -- Do your duty, come what may; Never tolerate any injustice and never compromise on your values and principles."

Neerja, 22, gave up her life to save passengers during a terrorist hijack of a Pan-Am flight at Karachi international airport in Pakistan on September 5, 1986.

The senior flight purser of Pan-Am flight 73 (Bombay-Karachi-Frankfurt-New York), Neerja was killed in the shootout following the hijack. Palestinian terrorists from the Abu Nidal terrorist group had entered the aircraft posing as Pakistani Police personnel, carrying arms and hand grenades.

The hijack left 20 people dead and 150 injured after a bloodbath at the Karachi airport. There were around 200 Indian passengers on the flight, of which 13 died while over 100 were injured.

Following her act of bravery and supreme sacrifice, Neerja was given the Ashoka Chakra, India's highest peacetime gallantry award for bravery, in 1987. She became the youngest and first woman recipient of the gallantry award....IANS



Neerja Bhanot was recognized internationally as "the heroine of the hijack"
Neerja Bhanot hid the passports of the 41 Americans on board

Neerja Bhanot was born in Chandigarh to Harish Bhanot, a Mumbai-based journalist, and Rama Bhanot. She brought up in Mumbai in a Punjabi Brahmin family. She had two brothers: Akhil and Aneesh Bhanot. Bhanot had an arranged marriage in March 1985 and joined her husband in the Doha, Qatar. However, the marriage soon deteriorated following alleged dowry pressure and she returned to her parents' home in Mumbai within two months.

  • Neerja Bhanot applied for a flight attendant job with Pan Am, when in 1985 it decided to have an all Indian cabin crew for its Frankfurt to India routes, and upon selection, went to Miami for training as a flight attendant
  • She was the senior flight purser on Pan Am Flight 73 flying from Mumbai to the United States, which was hijacked by four armed men on 5 September 1986 at Karachi airport in Pakistan.
  • The aircraft was carrying 361 passengers and 19 crew members. The terrorists wanted to fly to Cyprus and wanted to release some of their members from jail. After the terrorists boarded the plane, Neerja Bhanot alerted the cockpit crew. As the plane was on the tarmac, the three-member American cockpit crew of pilot, co-pilot and the flight engineer left the aircraft through an overhead hatch in the cockpit. Neerja Bhanot, as the senior-most cabin crew member, took charge.
  • The hijackers were part of the terrorist Abu Nidal Organization and were backed by Libya. They were targeting Americans and American assets. Right in the early minutes of the hijack, they identified an American citizen, dragged him to the exit, shot him dead and threw his body on to the tarmac. The terrorists then instructed Neerja Bhanot to collect the passports of all the passengers so that they could identify the other Americans on board. In a remarkable act of courage and compassion, Neerja Bhanot and the other attendants under her charge hid the passports of the 41 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. Neerja Bhanot opened one of the doors, flung open an emergency chute, and started assisting passengers escape the aircraft. Instead of disembarking, Bhanot decided to stay on board to assist deplaning the passengers in a hurry. Bhanot was shot while shielding three unaccompanied American children from a hail of bullets of the hijackers. Out of a total of 41 American passengers, two were killed during the hijacking. A child on board, then aged seven, is now a captain for a major airline and has stated that Neerja Bhanot has been his inspiration and he owes every day of his life to her.
  • Neerja Bhanot was recognized internationally as "the heroine of the hijack" and became the youngest recipient of the Ashok Chakra Award, India's most prestigious gallantry award for bravery during peace time.

    The hijack had occurred just two days before her twenty-third birthday. Bhanot had helped prevent the plane from getting off the ground and also saved the lives of hostages. Neerja Bhanot posthumously received multiple awards for her courage from the United States government and Tamgha-e-Insaniyat from Pakistan, an award given for showing incredible human kindness

  • For her bravery, the Government of India posthumously awarded Bhanot the Ashoka Chakra Award (India's highest gallantry award for bravery in the face of the enemy during peace time). Bhanot is the youngest recipient and the first woman recipient of this award.
  • In 2004 the Indian Postal Service released a stamp commemorating her.
  • With insurance money and an equal contribution from Pan Am for using the brand Pan Am in the title, her family set up the Neerja Bhanot Pan Am Trust.

Her loyalties to the passengers of the aircraft in distress will forever be a lasting tribute to the finest qualities of the human spirit.

A Father Reminisces

Harish Bhanot in The Hindustan Times of October 5, 1986

Neerja, the vivacious and valiant senior flight purser of Pan Am was felled by hijackers bullets during the Pan Am holdup at Karachi airport on September 5 1986 - barely 25 hours before her birthday. A year ago, she had written to me, "I will do you proud" and the brave girl has kept her word.

Of late, Neerja was doing a lot of modelling. She had returned from Frankfurt on Tuesday (September 2) morning. She spent all of Wednesday shooting. On Thursday, she had yet another prestigious assignment. She reported for shooting at 9 a.m. and returned home only around 8 p.m. The hard day did not tell on her, she bounced about saying that she had the "most satisfying shooting day ever with Director Ayesha Sayani", whom she described as a highly talented professional. She had a light dinner and went to sleep after telling her mother to wake her up 90 minutes before the pick-up call from Pan Am. Her mother was keen that she should telephone Pan Am to get excused because she had a hard day. But a highly duty conscious Neerja did not oblige her mother.

Pan Am informed that the pickup time will be 1.15 a.m. (Sept 5). Her mother had to knock the door really hard to wake up Neerja. She had the usual cold bath. While she was getting ready, we talked. I asked her, how many friends had she invited to her birthday on Sept. 7. She replied, "None" because she would be returning only on Sunday morning. She wished the birthday party to be just a family affair.

I learnt of the Pan Am plane hijacking at Karachi, at a press conference. I felt uneasy. As I reached my own office, I had a telephone call from Mr. Irfan Khan of Hindustan Lever. He advised me to be with him, mainly because his office had better facilities to get the latest information from Karachi.

What happened at Karachi airport? As the terrorists rushed up the letter to "capture" the aircraft, Neerja dashed to inform the captain in the cockpit. A terrorist, however, caught her by her handy ponytail but she was able to shout the "hijack code". Another flight attendant who got her code conveyed it to the cockpit.

Obviously, the cabin crew, including the two pursers, did not know the action the cockpit crew takes on hearing the hijack code. It is now known that the 3 member cockpit crew - pilot, co-pilot and flight engineer - slipped away, leaving the aircraft, 400 passengers and the 13 member cabin-crew at the mercy of an emotionally surcharged 4 member team of burly terrorists. Since Neerja was the cabin-crew leader, she took over the "command", as soon as she found that the three seniors (cockpit crew) had deserted them.

Neerja's notes say that she had to follow up the hijacking warning with 6 steps. In the Karachi situation, she was required to "communicate" with the hijackers. Her smiles, even in deep distress, won a response. She looked after the passengers, within permissible limits. Her smiles were taken as an assurance by the passengers and crew members that the worst was over.

The power generator was running out of fuel and voltage was falling. Then "something" happened. Neerja was standing close to the leader of the terrorists. The light had become very dim. Suddenly, guns began vomiting fire within the aircraft. Neerja jumped to the emergency exit and threw it open.

According to Mrs. Malti Krishnaswamy and other eyewitnesses, Neerja was caught by the leader of the terrorists and shot point blank. In the dead body I saw bullets had hit her in the abdomen, on the shoulder near the neck and in the arm. When she opened the emergency exit, she could have herself been the first to slide down the chute. But she was the "captain", who believed that she had to be the last person to quit - alive or dead.

The terrorists guns became silent only after spitting out the last bullet. The cabin crew got together on the tarmac and found the "leader" missing. Two crew members ran back to the aircraft to find a profusely bleeding Neerja at her post of duty. The shock of being hit by bullets did not stop her heart-beat. She had been bleeding, from at Least two bullet wounds, for nearly 15 minutes. But she was in her full senses and told her 2 colleagues to take care of her bullet-hit arm. With a little assistance, she slid down the chute to be received at the other end by another member of the crew. She was helped to walk to the ambulance. But she became a martyr before any medical assistance could help her to survive.

In the normal course of events, Neerja would have been back in Bombay on Sunday, September 7, her birthday. But instead of that we collected her coffin from the airport. She, who died so that others could live, was cremated the following day at 11 a.m. amidst chanting of her favourite mantras as we said "Goodbye darling, please keep coming." The young model has set a model for her class the world over.

Neerja was a fruit of our long prayers for a daughter. We had two sons and were longing for a daughter. It was Sept. 7, 1962 at Chandigarh - where I was posted at that time. The maternity ward matron rang up to inform me that we had been blessed with a baby-girl. I was very happy to hear this and gave her a "double thanks". She thought I had got her wrong and so she repeated "It is a daughter". I explained to her the daughter had already 2 brothers and that is why it was an occasion for "double thanks". Neerja was a "no problem" child, right from day one. She was a "no nonsense" girl right from the start. She went to Sacred Heart School (Chandigarh). Her family name was "Lado" and I do not think I had called her Neerja more than a score of times in her 23 years.

We came to Bombay in March 1974. She was a student of sixth standard. I took her to Bombay Scottish High School for admission. Everybody had told me that admission would be impossible. But one look at her and that great principal gave a lie to canards that entry into the school was linked with the size of "donation".

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. Of the 23 years of her life, she had lived 22 years and 10 months under bracing sunshine. The two month long ugly patch was a dowry cloud. Following her ad-based arranged marriage in March 1985, she had gone to the Gulf to join her husband to set up a happy home. But the marriage went sour within two months. She was starved off finance and food in a foreign land and the bright girl lost five kg of weight in two months. She had to borrow money from the husband even to make a telephone call.

Before the marriage, it was made clear that it would be a dowry less marriage. But when she reached the "ordained home" she was told that even a "very poor man gives something to his daughter in marriage". She came back to Bombay to honour a modelling contract. An ugly letter followed, listing terms for her return, which no person with self-respect could accept. The letter listed a straight formula: accept the humiliating terms without a whimper and return at your own cost or "we will separate". The worst was that the letter asked her as to what was she? "You are just a graduate". The young girl could not pocket this. She applied for a flight attendant's job with Pam Am. There were nearly 10,000 applications but Neerja Harish easily found place among the top 80. Some of her close friends in Pan Am knew of her marriage mishap. They say that Neerja had been clearly stating that if one day something happened to her, please see that even "his" shadow did not fall on her dead body. The girl with sinews of steel accepted the challenge "what are you" and has told "what she was".

The Pan Am job was a great success from day one. She went to Miami for training as a flight attendant but she returned home as a Purser. Nothing can, possibly, state her Pan Am stature better than a letter received from her instructor (at Miami), Mr. Keith D. Smith saying: "The courageous manner in which she lived was very evident in the courageous manner in which she died. Shielding 3 small children from danger was a bold, daring and brave act that so dignified Neerja's personality. She was a wonderful human being. All those who were concerned with her Miami training, including the 'local mother', have expressed similar assessment of Neerja."........




Neerja Bhanot died on the night of Sept. 5, 1986, after terrorists killed her for helping passengers escape Pan Am Flight 73 hijacked at Karachi airport, Pakistan.

Ashoka Chakra Award.jpg

Born in a Punjabi family in Chandigarh, she was brought up in Mumbai. Neerja Bhanot had a successful modelling career, working as a purser at Pan Am. Her life and heroism inspired a biopic in the form of Ram Madhvani's Neerja