Neerja Bhanot: Hero of Pan Am Flight 73



On 5 September 1986, four heavily armed Arabic-speaking terrorists hijacked Pan Am Flight 73 in Karachi, Pakistan. Neerja Bhanot, who was born in Chandigarh, India, was one of the flight attendants. A terrorist grabbed her by her ponytail, but she was able to shout the code name for a hijacking, and another flight attendant relayed it to the cockpit crew: the pilot, co-pilot, and flight engineer. They were able to escape, thus grounding the airplane. Ms. Bhanot served coffee and sandwiches and kept the passengers calm. Her continual smile angered the hijackers. Sekhar Mitra, a surviving passenger of the hijacking, said, “She was fantastic, the only real hero in the incident.” The terrorists were targeting USAmericans on the flight, and she and the other flight attendants hid the USAmericans’ passports so that the terrorists could not tell who was and was not USAmerican. Mr. Mitra said, “I still can’t believe she did that. If they had found that out, they would have killed her immediately, I’m sure.” After 17 hours, the terrorists began to set off explosives and to shoot the passengers. Ms. Bhanot helped Mr. Mitra escape; he said, “I was going to jump out, but she said it was a wing exit and it would be too long a fall for me. She directed me to the rear exit, and I got out.” Ms. Bhanot opened an emergency door and helped people exit the plane to safety. She died after being shot as she used her body to shield three children from the gunfire. She died two days before her 23rd birthday. Twenty passengers were killed during the hijacking; all of the terrorists were captured and convicted. This is the citation that Pan Am issued in her honor:

“In memory of Neerja 

“Her time with us was all too short. Her fond memory will fly with us forever — Pan Am

“Neerja joined the Pan Am family on Jan. 16, 1986. Her employment with Pan Am was a great source of joy for her and her beloved family. Her special leadership qualities were quickly recognized and she was elevated to the position of ‘Purser’ on April, 1986.

“Neerja was the Senior Purser aboard Pan Am Clipper 73, which was hijacked by armed terrorists at Karachi airport. Her gallant actions were nothing less than heroic as she, along with nearly 400 other passengers and crew members, was held at gunpoint, constantly under the threat of death, for over 16 hours.

“Setting aside all concern for her personal safety and well-being, Neerja identified herself to the terrorists as the crew member in charge of Clipper 73. Her decision to take responsibility for the situation at hand was in the highest traditions of excellence and service to her fellow man.

Neerja stood as a symbol of leadership. Her fellow flight attendants looked to her for strength, which they found in Neerja’s calm and professional manner, which helped to heighten the spirits and hopes of everyone. She provided assistance to passengers at every juncture, giving special attention to small children and elderly passengers, who found comfort where otherwise, there was none.

“In the final hour, she gave her own life, while shielding three small children from gunfire.

“Neerja was called upon under the most difficult conditions, at the most difficult time, to step forward in a position of leadership. And her heroic actions were responsible for saving of hundreds of lives.

“She is deeply mourned and sadly missed and will always be remembered in thoughts and prayers by members of her large Pan Am family. Her actions will live on as a testament to the highest ideals.

“We were honoured to call Neerja sister and one of our own.”



For Further Information: “Neerja Bhanot.” Wikipedia. Accessed 5 January 2014

For Further Information: Neerja Bjanot. 2010. Accessed 5 January 2014.

For Further Information: “Pan Am Flight 73.” Wikipedia. Accessed 5 January 2014

For Further Information: “ An awesome, selfless, human being.” Imgur. Accessed 5 January 2014

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