|Neerja Bhanot.Social Chumbak|
|Neerja Bhanot, The Quint|
Above image: Pan Am flight no. 73 flight attendant, Indian woman Neerja Bhanot.(1963 – 1986)
The misconception, that women and men are poles apart in terms of ability, confidence and intellect, the former constituting the weaker section of the society and the latter embodiment of bravery and achievement, has been there for a long time. It is a tough job for women to grow up in societies where there is an apparent gender discrimination. Though by nature, they are physically weak, their intellectual achievement, determination and commitments are in no way inferior to men. In a given situation, if an opportunity arises, women can raise to the occasion and establish a name for themselves and for the country they are living in. In India, Rani Mangammal, Queen Velu Nacihyar, Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy of Tamil Nadu, Ms. Acchamma Kurian, Parukutty Nethyar Amma of Kerala, Bachendri Pal, Madam Cama, Ms. Sarla Thakral and scores of Indian women achieved name and success in their own ways purely on their merit.
Image below: Ill -fated Pan Am Flight 73 was a Pan American World Airways Boeing 747-121 and was hijacked by four armed men of the Abu Nidal Organisation on September 5, 1986. One emergency door was functional!!
|Pan Am flight 73.insider.pk/|
Above image: Ill fated Pan Am Flight 73;hijacked by four armed men of the Abu Nidal Organisation on Sept. 05, 1986.
But when a calamity strikes from no where, putting many people's lives in danger, the correct decision of a person in charge of such a difficult situation is very significant. His/her decision - making, timing, presence of mind in a risky situation, proper exit plan and the ability to coordinate them all into a single action play a key role and determine the difference between life and death of people in danger. Such a scary and tense situation unexpectedly unfolded right before one Ms. Neerja Bhanot, a flight attendant on Pan Am Flight 73 originated from Bombay to New York via Frankfurt.
Ms. Neerja Bhanot, born in, Changigargh, Punjab was the daughter of Rama Bhanot and Harish Bhanot, Bombay based journalist. She had her education at Sacred Heart Senior Secondary School, Chandigarh, Bombay Scottish School and St. Xavier's College, Mumbai. Her arranged marriage did not go well due to dowry problem and soon after her separation from her husband, she got a job with Pan AM, an American Airline company. Upon her training in Miami Florida, she returned to Bombay and joined Pan Am as Purser. The ill-fated flight from Mumbai to Frankfurt and then on to New York, was hijacked by a dreaded terrorist group called Abu Nidal Organization, founded by Abu Nidal. It was a splinter group away from Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction of the PLO in 1974 and was mainly backed by Libya. The group has been designated as a terrorist organization by the United States, Israel, and the European Union . The South West Asia situation was politically volatile over the issue of a separate Palestinian land and the relationship between some of the Arab states with Israel was very much strained. The hardcore terrorists were supporters of the Palestinians and their causes. Since many of the western counties, in particular, America were supporters of Israel, there were widespread protests against America in many Arab countries. The heavily armed hijackers apparently posed as security guards, boarded the plane at Bombay on September 05, 1986 and hijacked the Pan Am flight while it was landed in Karachi at 5 a.m from Mumbai, India. Ms. Bhanot alerted the cockpit crew consisting of three American pilots, who somehow managed to escape from the cockpit. With no cockpit communication contact with the ATC, the hijackers had to deal with authorities directly. Now the responsibility fell on Ms. Bhanot, senior purser to save the passengers from death and pain. The terrorists, upon their entry into the flight, asked Bhanot to collect passports of all the passengers so that they could identify the Americans and kill them one by one. There were 380 passengers, mostly Indians, Americans, Italians, Germans and other nationalities plus the crew. Realizing the ghostly and grave situation into which the passengers had been pushed into, she thought the first victims were the innocent Americans, including women and kids. Bhanot, with presence of mind, along with her equally attentive junior attendants, hid all the passports of 41 Americans so that they could be safe from the clutches of sure death and mayhem. Because of lack of power supply in side the plane it was pitch dark. The unfortunate passengers were literally in a hell. But the hijackers after 16 hours of terrorizing the innocent hostages set explosives in the flight and began to shoot. Undaunted, determined to save the lives of passengers, she had managed to have one of the emergency doors opened and deployed the slide on to the tarmac roughly 15 feet down. Ms. Bhanot evacuated the people safely through the slide. Ms. Bhanot could' ve escaped first along with other passengers but she stayed aboard the plane long enough to save as many passengers as she could. In the process of protecting three children from a hail of bullets, she was felled down by the hijackers. In all, 22 people were killed and more than 100 wounded. Among the total passengers, 25% were Indians out of which 60% of them were dead. The five men were arrested by the Pakistani authorities. The 16 hour long siege came to a tragic end when the Pakistani commandos stormed the plane. Immediately, the hijackers began shooting and throwing hand grenades at the passengers and crew they had herded into one area of the plane, according to court papers presented at the U.S. trial of Safarini. Apparently many passengers escaped in the 10 minute interval before the real ordeal. Because of damage, only one emergency door was functional. Many lives were saved by the crews led by Ms. Bhanot through only available emergency door.
Ms. Bhanot was posthumously awarded with the highest civilian military award that is Ashoka Chakra for her bravery and she is the youngest person to get that covetous award from the Indian government. Her daring act in a worst and trying situation reflected superior level of sacrifice and dedication towards her duty.
Unwinding the past tragic, nightmarish event, Neerja’s parents, Harish and Rama Bhanot said, '' ...........I knew she would not come back. During her short life she managed to give us what not many children can give their parents, the privilege of being able to hold our heads high with pride. Today we are known as Neerja’s parents and we are proud of her.”
The hijackers, were captured by Pakistan, the court sentenced them to death in 1988; later they commuted to life in prison. In 2001, Zayed Hassan Abd Al-Latif Masud Al Safarini, one of the the hijackers who shot the passengers, was captured by the FBI in Bangkok and he is serving a 160-year prison term in Colorado. Pakistan released four others in January, 2008 from Adyala Jail. The FBI announced a bounty of $ 6 million on their heads. One of them Abdul Rahim, it is believed, was killed in a drone attack in the tribal areas of North west Province.
Ms. Bhanot received several awards for her bravery in the face of death that include:
01. Flight Safety Foundation Heroism Award, U.S.A in 2006.
02. Tamgha-e-Insaaniyat (Awarded for showing incredible human kindness), Pakistan.
03. Justice for Crimes Award, United States Attorney’s office for the District of Columbia in 2005.
04. Special Courage award, US Govt.
05. Indian Civil Aviation Ministry's Award.
06.Mumbai's suburb Ghatkopar (East) was named Bhanot Chowk after Neerja and the function was inaugurated by Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan in the early 1990s.
Link: Pan Am Flight 73 Hijacking Description - Aviation Safety Network
Link: 1986: Karachi hijack ends in bloodshed - bbc.co.uk
Link: Pan Am Flight 73 - Victims recount horrors - FBI