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Neerja Bhanot

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Name- Neerja Bhanot

DOB- 7 September 1963 Chandigarh, India

Known as- Yoga Guru

Father- Harish Bhanot

Mother- Rama Bhanot

Death- 5 September 1986 (aged 22) Karachi, Sindh, Pakistan

 


 

Early life and education

Bhanot was born on 7 September 1963 in Chandigarh, India, and brought up in Mumbai in a Punjabi 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 (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. She was a huge fan of actor Rajesh Khanna and used to refer to quotes from his films throughout her life.

 

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Career

She got married shortly after her graduation, but the marriage proved to be a disaster. After being abused by her husband for dowry, she separated from him and focused her efforts on building a successful career for herself. Pretty and confident, she undertook some modeling assignments and appeared in many television commercials and print advertisements for companies such as Benzersarees, Binaca toothpaste, Godrej Besto detergent, Vaporex, and Vicco Turmeric cream. She then applied for a flight attendant's job with Pan Am, the principal and largest international air carrier in the United States at that time. There were nearly 10,000 applications, but Neerja was easily selected among the top 80. She was sent to Miami for training as a flight attendant and impressed her training instructors with her courage and zeal. She was soon made a senior flight purser with the airways—a big career achievement for a young woman of 22.

Pan Am Flight 73 Hijacking Incident

5 September 1986, Neerja Bhanot was on duty in the Pan Am Flight 73, parked on the tarmac at Jinnah International Airport in Karachi, preparing for take-off. The flight was flying from Mumbai to USA, carrying 361 passengers and 19 crew members. All of a sudden, four armed men barged into the aircraft. Acting quickly, Neerja alerted the cockpit crew who evacuated the plane. Being the senior most staff on the hijacked aircraft, she took charge. The hijackers—part of the terrorist Abu Nidal Organization backed by Libya—wanted to fly to Israel and crash the plane against a building. But it was not possible as the cockpit crew had already escaped. The passengers on the plane hailed from different countries, there wereIndians, Germans, Americans, and Pakistanis, among others. The terrorists were more intent on targeting the Americans. When Neerja was told to collect the passports of the passengers, she hid the American ones so that the terrorists could not identify them. The nightmare on the aircraft continued for long. The hijackers opened fire after 17 hours, prompting Neerja to open the emergency door. She could have escaped first, but chose not to. Instead, she helped the passengers escape. She was shot when she was shielding three children from the terrorists’ bullets after hours of saving the lives of several hostages.

 

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Personal Life

Neerja had an arranged marriage in March 1985 and moved to the Gulf to be with her husband. The marriage, however, proved to be a disaster. While Neerja and her parents had cleared at the time of marriage that it would be a dowry-free marriage, the young bride was humiliated and tortured at her husband’s house for dowry. She chose to break free from this abusive marriage and returned to her parents in India. Her parents set up the Neerja Bhanot Pan Am Trust with insurance money and funds from Pan Am for using the brand Pan Am in the title. The trust presents two awards every year, one to honor a flight crew member, worldwide, who acts beyond the call of duty and another to an Indian woman who overcomes social injustice and helps other women in similar social distress.

 

Awards

1987- Ashoka Chakra

1987- Flight Safety Foundation Heroism Award, United States

 

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