San Francisco Examiner Sept. 15, 1986
Remember this Woman
Remember this Woman
The heroism of a young woman from India should stir the people of that nation and the whole planet to voice thanks as did Mirinda in The Tempest for a world "that hath such people in it!"
Neerja, a flight attendant on the Pan Am hijacking at Karachi gave us inspiration by self-sacrifice. When terrorists came aboard, she warned the plane's pilots so they could escape, and their quick getaway made the hijacking fail because the terrorists were stuck on the ground.
In the final bloodbath at the end of the hijacking, Neerja was killed. It was two days before her twenty-third birthday. Not only had she assured the failure of the hijacking by preventing the plane from getting off the ground, she also saved the lives of hostages in those long hours of incarceration. She hid the passports of American passengers from the Arabic speaking gunmen, giving them a chance to escape the homicidal wrath of the intruders.
She was, at so early an age, the senior flight purser. But Neerja, who radiated both cheer and concern, has left a mark on everyone who knew her and many of the rest of us.
October 4, 1986.
World's bravest woman
Last week, Blitz presented to the public the Greatest Coward on Earth, Captian William Kianka, Commander of the Pan Am plane held hostage in Karachi by terrorists, who killed about 20 passengers and injured more than 100.
This week we bring you the world's bravest woman, Neerja the air hostess who paid with her life for her supreme act of courage, as she boldly announced, "now that the pilot has gone (the cockpit crew fled), I am the commander" and tried to shield 3 small children in the line of fire.
Despite Pakistani attempts to confuse the issue and Pan Am's own suspicious silence over the tragedy, Pan Am sent her father Hindustan Times Correspondent Harish Bhanot, a citation which eloquently brings out Neerja's sterling qualities of leadership and concern for humanity.
The Cincinnati Enquirer
September 9, 1986
Symmes resident recounts
escape amid heroism, death
by James F. McCarthy
A Symmes township man returned Monday from a 17 hour ordeal as a captive of Palestinian hijackers to an emotional homecoming of yellow ribbons, joyful tears and kisses from his wife, family and friends.
Sekhar Mitra survived the harrowing episode in Karachi, with only a sore knee, where a terrorist hit him with the butt of a gun for not holding his hands high enough. Within Mitra's tale of terror, a second story emerged, more tragic and heart warming than any of his other recollections. It involved a young Pan Am flight attendant, Neerja, a 23 year old Indian, whose cool head and actions saved Mitra's life.
"She was fantastic, the only real hero in the incident," Mitra said.
From the start of the planes' takeover, it was obvious to Mitra that Americans were the terrorists' primary target. "Their leader passed by our seat several times, pointing his guns at us, saying, are you American citizens? Do you have American passports? But before they could be discovered, Neerja, the flight attendant already had covertly gathered all the American passports and hidden them aboard the plane.
"I still can't believe she did that," said Mitra. "If they had found that out, they would have killed her immediately, I'm sure."
The flight attendant smiled throughout the incident despite the fear surrounding her - and that infuriated the terrorists - Mitra said. They often pointed their guns at the young woman, accusing her of carrying on secret communication with the passengers. If the terrorists knew only how right they were.
When the lights in the jet were extinguished and the ordeal approached its bloody end, Neerja again played a life saving role, Mitra said. The first reaction to the darkness came when a terrorist exploded a pair of grenades in the plane. Then a machine gun strafed the passengers. As Mitra ran to the exit door, Neerja, her uniform covered with blood from a abdominal wound, stopped Mitra before he got out of the door. "I was going to jump out but she said it was a wing exit and it would be too long a fall for me. She directed me to the rear exit and I got out" Mitra said. He later saw a man carrying Neerja in his arms out of the plane. The young flight attendant died a few hours later.
Pakistan September 5, 1991
Neerja Bhanot: In retrospect
By Mohammad Aziz Haji Dossa
Significantly, my academic interest in this fetching and courageous gjr1, came about precisely on the day when she had been involuntarily thrust with the charge of the hijacked Jumbo 747 on September 5, 1986. I had to see Masood Shaffi, the manager of Ghee Corporation, but when I reached Keamari, Masood had thoughtfully telephoned that he would not be able to meet me, since his younger brother Hussain, was on the ill fated Jumbo, though he had a very narrow escape.
Subsequently, through Masood, I met Hussain, and he related to me his version of what happened. Hussain had come on a 3 weeks' vacation in Karachi during Id-ul-Azha holidays and was returning to New York. He was the first passenger to enter the plane, when he was courteously wished "Good Morning, Sir" by the auburn haired girl. In the Pan Am uniform of white blouse and dark skirt, Hussain would fondly recollect, the air-hostess was a facsimile of a celebrated Indian actress. He would identify her as Neerja and contend that the broad smile, to keep the passengers cheerful and happy, never left her face, through the unending, seventeen, tribulating hours.
With the hijacking of the plane, Hussain and the passengers were forced to sit on the carpeted floor. The undaunted Neerja continuously remained on her feet serving coffee, sandwiches and provided for every need of the entrapped passengers that was conceivable under the circumstances; at the same time, she would whisper comforting words in their ears.
Husain related that as the lights went out at in the night, he was herded with the passengers and as the shooting started, from nowhere his saviour Neerja had the presence and the nerve, to steal through the pandemonium of the screaming injured and the dying men, women and children to make a dash for the emergency door. Though fragile, Neerja, by sheer zest, it seems, single-handedly opened the chute. Hussain reminisced the farewell words of Neerja, to him and other passengers of "Get Out. Run" would forever ring in his ears.
Neerja was felled by bullets, when her silhouetted lithesome body was brutally targeted, as the light from the outside flooded on her, while she kept pushing her charges through the emergency door. In her last breath, the brave Neerja stumbled out from the plane to the tarmac, but collapsed as she was limping, before first aid could be rendered. Hussain told me that he learnt of the passing away of Neerja, when his brother Masood took him to the Edhi Centre at Kharadar on the evening of Sept. 6, with the sacrificial goat.
Among the lined wooden coffins containing the dead bodies of the Pan Am Flight, there was one in particular, that was the subject of admiration, about which the large crowd of Muslims and non-Muslims were praying. This coffin destined for Bombay, was tagged with the name and photograph of Neerja. Like many others in that hall, Hussain said that he too wept in homage, before the remains of that wonderful person. Hussain holds that Neerja was not the captain, and in risking her life, she went well beyond the call of duty.
Hussain contends that had Neerja opted, she could have been the first one out when she had to employ the full weight to throw open the gateway. Instead, she waited until all the passengers had been literally shoved by her down the chute, under the full impact of exploding ammunition. By the time her turn came. it was too late.
To Heroine Neerja
You have become historic
And made heroism heroic!
Your valour even hallows
Great martyrs on the gallows'
Even Death itself, 0 Sweet!
Must befalling at your feet!
To you the salutation, Neerja!
Of the whole nation.