Bengaluru, Feb 17: Neerja Bhanot was 23-year-old when she bravely fought against terrorists, who had hijacked Pan-Am flight-73 in Karachi on Sept 5, 1986. While saving the lives of 380 passengers, young Neerja did not bother about her own life and like a real hero, she fought till her last breath.
The hijackers claimed 20 lives of those who were on-board the ill-fated flight including Neerja and two American nationals. Neerja was posthumously awarded Ashoka Chakra for her act of bravery. [Bollywood film 'Neerja' banned in Pakistan]
Now, a Bollywood film Neerja-based on her life is about to be released on Friday, Feb 19. Let us know more about the braveheart Neerja, who chose compassion over cowardice and performed her duty till the end of her life.
- Born on Sept 7, 1963, Neerja hailed from Chandigarh and is the youngest recipient of the Ashoka Chakra, India's highest civilian award for bravery.
- Neerja Bhanot had also done a few ad-films and later she applied for a flight attendant's job with Pan Am.
- Neerja studied at Bombay Scottish school and graduated from St. Xavier's College.
- Neerja got married in 1985, but due to dowry demands, she returned to her parental home in Mumbai, within two months.
- She got the training for flight attendant from Miami.
- For her courgae and bravery, Neerja is also internationally known as 'heroine of the hijack'.
- Neerja's father, Harish Bhanot and mother Rama had set up a trust to institute an annual award for Indian women who displayed exemplary courage.
- Her father was a veteran journalist, who passed away at the age of 86 on Jan 1, 2008. Her mother also passed away at the age of 86, on Dec 5, 2015. Neerja is survived by her two brothers--Akhil and Aneesh.
- For honouring her tremendous courage, Neerja Bhanot award was founded in her memory in 1990. [Mumbai's Chanda Asani to get Neerja Bhanot Award]
- There are two Awards consisting of Rs 1,50,000, a trophy and a citation each. The first is given to an Indian woman who, when subjected to social injustice like dowry, desertion and so on, faced the situation with guts and grit and then helped women in similar social distress. [Nominations called for Neerja Bhanot Awards]
- The second is given to a flight crew member, worldwide, who acts beyond the call of duty in a difficult situation.
- She was also awarded the "Tagme-e-Insaniyat" by Pakistan, the flight Safety Foundation Award and the Medal of Heroism of the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution by the US.
- Indian Postal Service, released a stamp in her honour in 2004.
- Neerja Bhanot Chowk was named after her in Mumbai's Ghatkopar (East) suburb.
What happened on Sept 5,1986?
- There were 380 passengers including Indians (13 were from Karnataka out of whom 2 had died), Germans, 41 Americans, Mexicans and Pakistanis and 13-member cabin crew in Pan Am-73 flight, when the plane, that was flying from Mumbai to New York via Karachi and Frankfurt, was hijacked on the tarmac at Jinnah International Airport in Karachi.
- Four heavily-armed Palestinian terrorists, dressed as airport security guards, entered the aircraft while firing shots from an automatic weapon and seized control of the plane. The terrorists were part of Abu Nidal Organization and were backed by Libya.
- According to reports, pilot, co-pilot and flight engineer abandoned the hijacked aircraft, on the instructions given by Neerja, so that plane could not take off.
- Then hijackers held Neerja at gunpoint and told her to announce that the plane was hijacked.
- The main hijacker was Mustafa, who ordered Neerja to collect passports of all passengers. When Neerja realised that American passengers were their prime target, she hid their passports, to save their lives.
- After 17 hours of being parked at the runway, by 9 pm, the fuel of the plane had exhausted and there was darkness inside the aircraft. Then Neerja made a quick rescue plan by opening the emergency exits and passengers safely de-boarded the plane.
- But only three children were left to be rescued, when terrorists fired AK-47 bullets on Neerja, killing her instantly.
Had Neerja Bhanot thought about saving her own life, she could have been the first one to exit from emergency gates, but putting her life at stake, she cared about lives of hundreds of passengers.
Out of the three children, who were saved by Neerja, one, who was 7-year-old at that time, is now a captain of a major airlines and Neerja is her inspiration!
Here is the audio of Neerja's last voice:
Here is a touching video of Neerja's mother Rama Bhanot who blessed the entire crew of Bollywood biopic Neerja: