Meet Neerja Bhanot: The Flight Attendant Who Saved 340 Passengers During a Hijacking

The day was September 5, 1986. The Pan Am Flight 73 made a stopover at Karachi, and four heavily armed men dressed as security guards hijacked the plane. They were later revealed to be terrorists from the group Abu Nidal Organization who planned to use the plane to head to Cyprus and Israel.


They drove towards the plane, firing shots and demanding one of the cabin crew to lock the doors. Another flight attendant, Sherene Pavan, alerted the pilots by entering an emergency code in the intercom.


One of the gunmen then asked Neerja Bhanot, senior flight purser, to collect all the passports. Thinking that they were targeting Americans, she instructed the other flight attendants to hide all American passports, where it was either hidden under the seats or thrown in the disposal. This foresight managed to save 39 out of the 41 American passengers.


neerja bhanot hero


The hostage lasted for 17 hours, and the plane eventually lost power and the frustrated men opened fire. Bhanot took advantage of the dark to open one of the exits to let the passengers out. She had the chance to save herself yet she decided to assist the escape of the other passengers.


As Bhanot was about to escape herself, she saw three children left behind and went back. She died through fatal bullet shots as she served as a human shield to the kids. Of the 380 Pan Am passengers and cabin crew, 22 were killed. 


Bhanot was posthumously honored with the Ashok Chakra Award, India’s highest military decoration for valor, courageous action or self-sacrifice outside the battlefield. She also earned the international title “The Heroine of the Hijack”.


Flight attendants are your first line of defense in the skies, and they undergo rigorous training to handle terrorist situations, among other things. The lives of hundreds of passengers are in their hands, and everyday they work as unofficial heroes.


If you have the passion to serve and become part of this profession, then start training now via Eton College’s Flight Attendant Preparation Program!