Oct 252015
The heroine

The heroine

Danger and death often comes unexpected and ordinary people sometimes rise and become heroes in dire situations. This was the case when Pan Am Flight 73 left Karachi, Pakistan on September 5th, 1986. Unknown to the airline staff and passengers, four terrorists were about to hijack the plane looking for American passengers as targets.

Heroine Neeja Bhanot

Female flight attendent, Neeja Bhanot, secredly activated a highjacker code on the aircraft’s intercome system. If can be certain that none of the passengers knew this code, but it did enable three of the cockpit crew to escape. (Obviously, the plane had not taken off from the ground). It was now Neeja and other crew members to take care of the stranded and endangered passengers. The males in the cockpit ran away, leaving the aircraft, 400 passengers and the 13 member cabin-crew at the mercy of an emotionally surcharged 4 member team of burly terrorists. Since Neerja was the cabin-crew leader, she took over the “command”, as soon as she found that the three seniors (cockpit crew) had deserted them.

Hiding American Passports

 According to reports, she hid American passports after realizing 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.

Shielding Three Children with Her Body

]As she shielded three children, Neerja was hit by several bullets and succumbed to her injuries. I cannot imagine such bravery and as Jesus said, “There is no greater love than a person would lay down his/her life for another.” Neeja, as a Hindu, chose to value life over the destruction of guns! If she had survived her injuries, Neeja, two days later would have celebrated her 23rd birthday. When she opened the emergency exit, she could have herself been the first to slide down the chute. But she was the “captain”, who believed that she had to be the last person to quit – alive or dead.

Who was Neerja?

Neerja was born to a Brahmin (priestly family) in Chandigarh on September 7th, 1963. She graduated from Sacred Heart Roman Catholic school having completed her senor secondary schooling. She later graduated from St. xavier’s college, Mumbai. At the age of 22, she married and joined her husband who was working in the Gulf. The marriage was an unhappy one, lasting only two months because of dowry matters. (It would seem that her husband valued money more than Neerja). For many women, such emotional abuse would render them without self-confidence. However, Neerja rose above this marriage disaster and placed people over her own problems.


Awards for Bravery

This event happened 29 years ago, so it is safe to assume that many people are living and remembering the couragous act of Neerja. They owe their lives to this young woman.

Neerja was awarded posthumously the “Ashok Chakra”, India’s highest civilian award for bravery. She became the first woman to receive this award. A postage stamp was issued in her honour in 2004 Pakistan also awarded her the “Justice for Crimes Award”’ and “Tamgha-e-Insaniyat” an honour for showing incredible human kindness.


paula: I am so proud of this young woman and it is my pleasure and purpose to honour Neerja. If you look at the media, you will become depressed by the constant “bad news” – wars, famines, droughts, poverty, etc.   However, in this “darkness” are many incredible human beings who shine a light and make a difference. Neerja was such a person. And it is such acts that inspiration is passed on – and like a relay – humans can complete a race of dignity, peace and love.




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