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“Neerja Bhanot was the senior flight purser on Pan Am Flight 73 flying from Mumbai to the United States, which was hijacked by four armed men on 5 September 1986 at Karachi airport in Pakistan. The aircraft was carrying 361 passengers and 19 crew members.
The hijackers were part of the terrorist Abu Nidal Organization and were backed by Libya. They were targeting Americans and American assets. Right in the early minutes of the hijack, they identified an American citizen, dragged him to the exit, shot him dead and threw his body on to the tarmac. The terrorists then instructed Neerja Bhanot to collect the passports of all the passengers so that they could identify the other Americans on board. In a remarkable act of courage and compassion, Neerja Bhanot and the other attendants under her charge hid the passports of the 41 Americans on board; some under a seat and the rest down a rubbish chute so that the hijackers could not differentiate between American and Non-American passengers.
After 17 hours, the hijackers opened fire and set off explosives. Neerja Bhanot opened one of the doors, flung open an emergency chute, and started assisting passengers escape the aircraft. Instead of disembarking, Bhanot decided to stay on board to assist deplaning the passengers in a hurry. Bhanot was shot while shielding three unaccompanied American children from a hail of bullets of the hijackers. Out of a total of 41 American passengers, two were killed during the hijacking. Neerja Bhanot was recognized internationally as “the heroine of the hijack” and became the youngest recipient of the Ashok Chakra Award, India’s most prestigious gallantry award for bravery during peace time. Neerja Bhanot posthumously received multiple awards for her courage from the United States government, and Tamgha-e-Insaniyat from Pakistan, an award given for showing incredible human kindness.”