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Amir Amanullah Khan Award (Afghanistan)

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Neerja Bhanot

Neerja Bhanot
Neerja Bhanot

CHILDHOOD

Bhanot was born on 7 september 1963 in Chandigarh and brought up in Mumbai in a Punjabi Brahmin family. She was the daughter of Harish Bhanot, a Mumbai-based journalist, and Rama Bhanot.

She had two brothers, Akhil and Aneesh Bhanot.She received her early schooling at Sacred Heart Senior Secondary School in Chandigarh.

When the family moved to Bombay (later renamed to Mumbai), she continued her studies at Bombay Scottish School and then graduated from St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai.

It was in Mumbai where she was first spotted for a modelling assignment which began her modelling career.

HIJACKING

Bhanot applied for a flight attendant job with Pan Am, when in 1985 it decided to have an all Indian cabin crew for its Frankfurt to India routes. Upon selection, she went to Miami, Florida.

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 360 passengers and 13 crew members. The terrorists wanted to fly to Cyprus with the goal of freeing Palestinian prisoners in Cyprus.

HIJACKING

Bhanot was able to alert the cockpit crew as soon as the hijackers boarded the plane, and as the plane was on the tarmac, the three-member cockpit crew of pilot, co-pilot and the flight engineer left the aircraft through an overhead hatch in the cockpit. As the senior-most cabin crew member, Bhanot took charge of the situation inside the plane.

The hijackers were part of the Abu Nidal Organization, a Palestinian terrorist organization backed by Libya; they were targeting Americans and American assets.

HIJACKING

In the early minutes of the hijacking, 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 Bhanot to collect the passports of all the passengers so that they could identify the other Americans on board. She and the other attendants under her charge hid the passports of the remaining 43 Americans on board.

HIJACKING

After 17 hours, the hijackers opened fire and set off explosives. Bhanot opened one of the airplane doors, and started helping the other passengers escape.

If she wanted, she could have been the first one to jump out and flee from the aircraft when she opened the door, but she decided not to and instead started helping the other passengers escape.

HIJACKING

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 on 5 september 1986

She 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.

She posthumously received multiple awards for her courage from the United States government, and the Tamgha-e-Pakistan from Pakistan.

LEGACY

For her bravery, the Government of India posthumously awarded Bhanot the Ashoka Chakra Award, India’s highest gallantry award for bravery in the face of the enemy during peace time.

She is the youngest recipient and the first woman recipient of this award. In 2004 the Indian Postal Service released a stamp commemorating her.

On 2 July 2016, the Bharat Gaurav Award was conferred on her at a ceremony held at the House of Commons, UK Parliament in London, England.