On 5th September, 1986, four terrorists hijacked the Pan Am flight 73, en route to Frankfurt and onward to New York City, at Karachi. Their targets were the American travellers on the plane but with quick presence of mind, Neerja Bhanot activated a hijack code on the aircraft’s intercom, which let the three-member cockpit crew escape.
Neerja was born to a Brahmin family in Chandigarh on 7th September, 1963. She did her schooling from Sacred Heart Senior Secondary School in Chandigarh and later completed her college from St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai.
The parents used to call their darling daughter Lado.
At an early age of 22 years, she got married and joined her husband in the Gulf. But unfortunately her marriage lasted only for two months because of dowry pressure.
After escaping from her troubled marriage, she returned to Mumbai and lived with her parents. At this time, she got a job as a flight attendant for Pan Am and went to Miami for training. Her compassionate heart, dedication towards her work and beautiful face complimented her job.
Neerja took over command of the stranded passengers and the rest of the crew.
According to reports, she hid American passports after realising that they were the main target of the terrorists. When the armed men began to fire blindly, Neerja managed to fling open the emergency door and asked passengers to flee. As she shielded three children, Neerja was hit by several bullets and succumbed to her injuries.She was dubbed as the ‘Heroine of the Hijack’ after she saved hundreds of lives before dying to a hail of bullets.This unforeseen incident took place two days short of her 23rd birthday, which changed her life, that of her family and left an imprint on the pages of history.
Such an act of bravery was acknowledged and rewarded by the Indian, Pakistan and American governments.Neerja posthumously became the first and only woman recipient of the Ashok Chakra, India’s highest civilian award for bravery. A postage stamp was also issued in her honor in 2004.She also received the ‘Justice for Crimes Award’ and Tamgha-e-Insaniyat award(Awarded for showing incredible human kindness-Pakistan).