Neerja Bhanot was a flight purser who lost her life trying to save passengers on a Pan American Flight, which was hijacked by a group of terrorists during a stopover in Karachi, Pakistan, in September 1986.
Neerja Bhanot was an Indian model and purser for the airline Pan American World Airways, based in Mumbai, India.
Neerja Bhanot was born in a Punjabi family to Rama Bhanot and Harish Bhanot in Chandigarh, later her family moved to Mumbai. She had two brothers: Akhil and Aneesh Bhanot
Neerja Bhanot received her early schooling at Sacred Heart Senior Secondary School in Chandigarh. Neerja Bhanot then moved to Mumbai with her family and completed her schooling at Bombay Scottish School and then graduated from St. Xavier's College, Mumbai
Neerja Bhanot was first spotted in a magazine at the age of 16. Her beauty and talent led to her bagging modelling assignments and she became a supermodel. Neerja Bhanot was featured in many advertisements.
Neerja Bhanot tied the knot in an arranged marriage in 1985 and then moved to Qatar. However, her marriage nosedived within a couple of months after she was allegedly harassed by demands for dowry, starved and was denied any money. She then returned back home to Mumbai to reside with her parents.
Neerja Bhanot has acted in more than 20 advertisements, including Vinod Cookware, Vaporex, Binaca, Benzer, Besto, saris and other assignments
Neerja Bhanot applied for a flight attendant job with Pan Am, in 1985. After getting selected, she went to Miami, Florida for training as a flight attendant, but returned as a purser
Neerja Bhanot continued to pursue modelling and had a successful career in modelling along with her job at Pan American World Airways
Neerja Bhanot was the senior flight purser on Pan Am Flight 73 flying from Mumbai to the United States on September 5, 1986, which was hijacked by four armed men at Karachi airport in Pakistan. The aircraft was carrying 365 passengers and 19 crew members
Neerja Bhanot was the first one to alert the captain, the co-pilot and first officers about a possible hijack and it was on her instructions they made their way out from the cockpit, ensuring that the plane could not take off
The hijackers of Pan Am Flight 73 asked Neerja to collect the passports of all the passengers so that they could identify the Americans. However, Neerja used her presence of mind by hiding the passports of the Americans and saved their lives
The hijackers were part of the Abu Nidal Organisation, a terrorist organisation backed by Libya; they were targeting Americans and American assets. In the early minutes of the hijacking, they identified an American citizen, dragged him to the exit and shot him dead
After 17 hours of the ordeal in the Pan Am 73 flight, the hijackers opened fire and set off explosives. Neerja Bhanot opened one of the aeroplane doors and started helping passengers to escape one by one
According to a surviving passenger, "She was guiding the passengers to the emergency exit. That is when the terrorists were firing constantly fearing a commando attack. They saw Neerja relentlessly trying to help the passengers out and that is when they caught her by her ponytail and shot her point blank."
Neerja Bhanot was killed while shielding three American children from a hail of gunfire from the terrorists. Out of a total of 44 American passengers, two were killed during the hijacking
One of the children Neerja Bhanot rescued is now an air pilot and considers her as his ultimate role model. He was 7 years old at that time
Neerja Bhanot's family members lovingly used to call her 'Laado'
Neerja Bhanot's funeral took place on 6th September 1986, a day before her birthday
Neerja Bhanot is the youngest recipient of Ashoka Chakra Award - India's most prestigious gallantry award for bravery during peace time
In 2004, the Indian Postal Service released a stamp commemorating Neerja Bhanot
After her death, her family set up the Neerja Bhanot Pan Am Trust with insurance money and an equal contribution from Pan Am
The trust presents two awards every year, one for a flight crew member, worldwide, who acts beyond the call of duty and another, the Neerja Bhanot Award, to an Indian woman, who, when faced with social injustice, braved the situation and helped other women in similar social distress
Neerja Bhanot was a huge fan of Bollywood actor Rajesh Khanna
Bollywood actress Sonam Kapoor portrayed the character of Neerja Bhanot in the 2016 acclaimed movie 'Neerja'. While the film won the National Award for Best Hindi Film, the 33-year-old actor received a special mention for her role in Neerja
On meeting Sonam Kapoor, Rama Bhanot, Neerja Bhanot's mother, said that Sonam reminded her of her daughter quite a lot
For her fearless act, Neerja was recognised internationally as 'The Heroine of the Hijack'. Neerja Bhanot is remembered for her bravery and India's daughter
Today India celebrates the 56th birth anniversary of Neerja Bhanot, a brave woman who laid down her life trying to save flight passengers from terrorists during a hijack. On this occasion, we pay tribute to this braveheart with a pictorial feature about her life. (All photos/Twitter and Facebook fanpage accounts)
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