33rd Anniversary: Flight Attendant Who Saved American Lives Shot Dead By Terrorists. She was the youngest person and first civilian to posthumously receive India’s highest award for gallantry.
This week in September 1986, Flight Attendant Neerja Bhanot, 23, of Chandigarh, India was shot dead while shielding three children on the hijacked Pan Am Flight 73.
She is credited with saving the lives of 360 passengers when radical Islamist terrorists hijacked her aircraft in Karachi, Pakistan.
She informed the pilots who used their escape hatch to get away. When the terrorists demanded to know who the Americans were on the flight so they could execute them, Bhanot gathered all passports and hid those belonging to Americans under seat cushions.
The terrorists confused and unable to determine the national origins of the passengers didn’t execute anyone. When Pakistani police raided the plane she was able to nearly singlehandedly evacuate all the passengers as the firefight ensued.
She was one of the last people on board and found three children still hiding. As she led the children to safety the surviving terrorists spotted the children and opened fire on them. Neerja jumped in the way of the bullets and was mortally wounded.
She was able to evacuate the children to safety before dying from her wounds. She also posthumously received a “Special Courage” award from the government of Pakistan and recognition from the U.S. Department of Justice. The 2016 Indian Hindi-language biographical thriller drama, Neerja, is about her life.