Not many knew who Neerja Bhanot was until the movie NEERJA was released last year. Exactly a year ago, Sonam Kapoor was casted in the movie and that is how everyone got to know who this brave girl was, who sacrificed her life while saving the passengers from terrorists on board a hijacked Pan Am Flight.
Bhanot was born in Chandigarh, and brought up in Mumbai. She was the daughter of Harish Bhanot (A mumbai based Journalist) and Rama Bhanot. She has two brothers Akhil and Aneesh Bhanot. Neerja studied at Bombay Scottish School and graduated from St. Xavier’s College. It was in Mumbai where she started her modeling career and other commercial assignments. She was a big fan of Rajesh Khanna and would always sing his songs. Her parents used to pamper her a lot and would call her “Ladoo” with love. She was married at the age of 21 and later she moved to West Asia with her Husband. Her marriage hit a rough patch. But she was a strong enough to decide to move on and that was when, she joined Pan Am.
It was in 1985, when Neerja applied for a Flight attendant job with Pan Am and got selected. She balanced her modeling career simultaneously with her work. Neerja’s mother was concerned when she had to sign for anti-hijacking course as a part of her training. But she was determined to do it anyway.
Bhanot was the senior flight purser on ‘Pan Am flight 73’ flying from Mumbai to United States. It was hijacked by four armed men on 5th September, 1985 at Karachi Airport in Pakistan. She tried to save 360 lives, out of 380. Hijackers saw Neerja helping the passenger to get out and that is when they caught her by her ponytail and shot her point blank. She was trying to save 3 American children from the airline. She was recognized worldwide as “The Heroine of Hijack”.
Neerja was the youngest and the first women recipient of Ashok Chakra which is India’s highest peacetime gallantry award.
She was only 23 when she received it and apart from that, the other awards include:
- Flight Safety Foundation Heroism Award – USA.
- Tamgha-e-Insaaniyat – Pakistan (awarded for showing incredibly human kindness).
- Justice for Crime Award – United States Attorney’s office for the District of Columbia.
- Special courage award – US Govt.
- Indian Civil Aviation Ministry’s Award.
Neerja, you were definitely a brave soul. We all salute you. Massive Respect!