Thursday, September 06, 2018

Neerja Bhanot Death Anniversary; Remembering the Brave 'Heroine of the Hijack' on Her Memorial Day

It is Neerja Bhanot, death anniversary today. On this day, exactly 32 years ago, the young flight attendant boarded Pan Am Flight 73, which was to land at the United States of America from Mumbai. On its way, the plane was hijacked by terrorists during a stopover in Karachi, Pakistan, on September 5, 1986. It was Neerja’s extraordinary sacrifice that saved almost every passenger from the attackers that day. Merely, before her 23rd birthday, she was killed while helping the travellers in a quick rescue. On her Memorial Day, here we pay tribute to ‘the heroine of the hijack’ for her bravery.
Neerja was born in Chandigarh to journalist Harish Bhanot, and his wife Rama and the family later moved to Mumbai. A model and purser for the Pan American World Airways, Neerja were full of life, dedicated, charming and compassionate. After her death, her father Harish wrote in Hindustan Times, “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 was the senior flight attendant on Pan Am Flight 73, which was flying from Mumbai to the United States. The plane had a stopover on its way at Karachi. Four armed men boarded, who wanted to fly to Cyprus with the aim of freeing the Palestinian prisoners. According to reports, the hijackers were part of the Abu Nidal Organization (ANO), a Palestinian terrorist organisation who were targeting Americans and American assets.
In the early minutes of the hijacking, the terrorists identified an American citizen, dragged him to the exit, shot him dead and threw his body on to the tarmac. The terrorists then instructed Bhanot to collect the passports of all the passengers so that they can identify the remaining Americans on board. Brave Neerja along with other flight attendants under her charge hid the passports, some under a seat and the rest down a rubbish chute so that the hijackers could not distinguish between the American and non-American travellers. After 17 hours, the hijackers opened fire.
Bhanot managed to open one of the aeroplane doors and began to help other passengers to escape. The terrorists caught Neerja relentlessly trying to help the passengers out. That is when she was shot while protecting 3 American children from the hail of gunfire from the terrorists.
05/09/18 Madhurima Sarkar/Latestly
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