How a 22-year-old flight attendant died saving 360 lives.

Neerja Bhanot was the senior flight attendant aboard Pam Am Flight 73 when it landed in Karachi, Pakistan, on the morning of September 1986.

It had just arrived from Mumbai, where Neerja lived, and was scheduled to continue on to Frankfurt and then New York.

The plane, as most planes are, was full of all different nationalities; Indians, Germans, Americans, Pakistani.

As the plane parked on the tarmac at Jinnah International airport, it was hijacked.

Here is a recent chat had on Australian television about the impact of terrorism. Post continues after video.

Video by MMC

Heavily armed terrorists dressed as airport security guards entered the aircraft while firing shots from an automatic weapon.

Their plan was to fly to Cyprus to free Palestinian prisoners, but Neerja, who was only 22, alerted the cockpit crew who escaped through an overhead hatch in the cockpit.

In the early minutes of the hijacking, the terrorists identified an American-Indian citizen, dragged him to the exit, shot him and threw his body on the tarmac.

They then ordered Neerja to collect everyone’s passports.


She knew they’d be after more Americans, so she bravely hid theirs, chucking some of them down the rubbish chute while she had the chance.

There were 44 Americans on board.

Neerja, her crew, and the passengers were held hostage for 17 hours.

Then, the terrorists opened fire.

Neerja opened one of the plane doors and frantically helped passengers escape, even though she could have been the first to leave.

The hijackers realised what she was doing and grabbed her by the ponytail.

She was shot point blank, while shielding three children from the bullets. It was 25 hours before her 23rd birthday.

Of the 380 hostages, 20 were killed.

One of the children Neerja saved, who was just seven at the time, is now a pilot. He considers Neerja his role model, and says he owes every day of his life to her.

Since her death, Neerja has been remembered for her bravery and compassion, and in 2016 a biopic of her story called “Neerja” was released.

This week, the actress who played her has paid tribute to the heroine she represented three years ago, releasing a video of the first time she met Neerja’s mother.


The leader of the hijacking Zaid Hassan Abd Latif Safarini was sentenced to 160 years in 2004.

But four of the hijackers involved, who were last seen in 2008, are still at large.

Age progressed photos of the four were made using new technology just last year, and the suspects are still listed on the FBI’s “Most Wanted Terrorists” page.

According to the FBI they are believed to have been members of the Abu Nidal Organisation, a known terrorist organisation.

FBI terrorists
The FBI is still hunting these suspects, over the 1986 hijacking. Image: FBI.

AUD $7 million has been offered as a reward for providing leads in the case, which is still very much open.

Neerja was recognised with a courage award by the airline in 1986, the US Department of Justice in 2005 and the US Attorney General in 2006.

She was also posthumously awarded India's highest peacetime gallantry the Ashok Chakra Award, and is known internationally as the "heroine of the hijack."

Not only did she save the lives of most of the hostages, she stopped the plane even getting off the ground.

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