By now, you all must have be aware about the ‘Heroine of Hijack’, Pan Am 73 flight attendant Neerja Bhanot. (Read: Remembering India’s Brave Daughter Neerja Bhanot Who Saved Hundreds Of Lives In The Hijacked Flight). Yes, the fateful Pan Am flight that took off from Mumbai on September 5, 1986 for New York, but got hijacked mid-way at Karachi, Pakistan. Actress Sonam Kapoor’s latest release, biopic movie Neerja is actually a tribute to India’s braveheart who saved lives of 359 people on board. She gave the boon of life to so many people, but she herself died at the hands of terrorists while saving children.
A successful TV and print model, flight attendant at a revered airlines, a loving daughter and a doting sister- Neerja Bhanot handled all this with ease and even in her final moments left an imprint on the hearts of millions of people across the world. And, she accomplished all this at the mere age of 23, yes an age at which most of us are still wondering about which career paths to choose or which road to follow in our lives.
Did you know that she died just 2 days before her 24th birthday? Well, there are several things that you do not know about Neerja. Here is a list of some lesser known facts about Hijack Heroine Neerja Bhanot that will leave you even more in awe of her.
#1. Modelling at 16
Born in 1963 to Harish Bhanot and Rama Bhanot in Chandigarh, Neerja was first spotted by a modelling agency when she was only 16. She had done advertisements for many famous brands including Amul chocolates, Vaporex and Charmis cream.
#2. Laado Of Her Family
Neerja’s family members lovingly called her ‘laado’. Her parents have always wanted a daughter and Neerja, who was born after her two elder brothers soon became the apple of eye of everyone at home.
#3. Married And Divorced At 21
In 1985, when she was just 21 years old, she had an arranged marriage with a Gulf-based businessman, Naresh. However, she was constantly harassed by her husband for dowry and she moved back within two months after her marriage to her parents’ house in Mumbai and filed for divorce.
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#4. Flight Attendant Training At Miami
After coming back to India, she joined Pan Am airlines as a flight attendant and even took training at Miami. Neerja completed her training successfully and returned as a purser also known as chief flight attendant.
#5. Head Purser
The ill-fated flight Pan Am 73 which got hijacked was Neerja’s first flight as the Head Purser.
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#6. Opened Emergency Gates
Her flight was hijacked for 17 hours after which the terrorists opened fire on the passengers. However, Neerja showed sheer bravery in the face of trouble and managed to open emergency gates of the plane.
#7. Could Have Been The First One To Exit
Neerja could have been the first one to slide down the emergency exit, but she did not as she believed herself to be the captain of the plane. She let everyone else exit before herself.
#8. Shot Down Dead
She got shot down point blank by the terrorists when she was helping three children move towards the emergency exit. She did this despite knowing that she has a very slim chance of survival at that point.
#9. Youngest Bravery Award Recipient
Neerja is the youngest as well as first women recipient of Ashoka Chakra, India’s highest civilian award for bravery. She is also the only braveheart to have received honours for her bravery from three countries including India, US and Pakistan.
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#10. Heroine Of Hijack
She came back in a coffin a day after her 24th birthday. Neerja Bhanot is recognised internationally as the ‘Heroine of Hijack’.
Controversies Surrounding The Movie Neerja
With the release of movie Neerja, various stories about Neerja Bhanot and what actually happened in Pan Am flight have come out.
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On one hand, where many have applauded the heroic efforts of Neerja, there are others who have been questioning and even denying her brave act. Some of these are her actual flight mates who are making such claims.
However, these rumours have been discredited by the movie’s producer as well as well-wishers of Neerja Bhanot.
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In fact, Neerja’s family and friends are quite overwhelmed and happy about their daughter getting the recognition that she deserves.
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It has been 30 years since Neerja sacrificed herself to save the lives of the passengers of Pan Am flight 73. She did everything in her power to stop the terrorists from killing innocent people. From hiding the passports of American passengers to signalling the pilots to leave the cockpit, Neerja showed courage, determination and will power in the most gruesome hours of her life. PeppyStory salutes the bravery of this 23-year-old woman who showed how even one life can make a difference to so many others.