Today’s Cool Woman is Neerja Bhanot, a truly amazing young woman who died saving the lives of strangers.
21 years back on
Neerja Bhanot identified herself as one of the airhostess, who was held at gunpoint and announced that the place had been hijacked. Unfortunately, the three-member cockpit crew of pilot, co-pilot and the flight engineer abandoned the aircraft, leaving 400 passengers and a 13-member cabin crew in the hands of brutal, thoughtless terrorists. Since Neerja was the cabin crew leader, she took over command. Neerja requested the passengers to be calm and obey the hijackers. She served coffee and sandwiches and her charming smile eased the tide of fear that had swept across their faces.
The leaders of the hijack identified himself as Mustafa. He ordered Neerja to collect the passports of all the passengers. Later she realized that the Americans were the main target of the terrorists and in a brilliant move she discreetly collected all the American passports and hid them. There couldn’t have been a better way to confuse the terrorists. By 9.pm when the auxiliary power unit failed entirely and the aircraft was plunged into darkness. Fearing an imminent raid by commandos, the hijackers shouted now is the holy war!! They fired their AK47, till they exhausted the bullets. By then Neerja had opened an emergency exit and a pan Am mechanic opened another. She used all her strength to guide and push people down the chute and while shielding three children; she absorbed the onslaught of bullets into her own body.
She would have escaped by the emergency exit first, but the angelic women gave up her life to save the innocents like a mother. After spent the bullets, and try to escape, the Mustafa and others captured by commandos and sentenced to life by a UA court. Neerja was brave in life, brave in death.
For her bravery the Government of India posthumously awarded her the Ashoka Chakra (
With the money from the insurance settlement, Neerja's parents set up a trust account honoring Indian women showing exemplary courage every year.
Neerja received the following awards:
Islamabad, Jan. 3, 2008: Four Palestinians convicted in the 1986 hijacking of a Pan Am jet — remembered for the heroism of Neerja Bhanot —were freed in Pakistan today and put on a flight to Dubai.
Mohammed Abdul Khalil Hussain, Daud Mohammed Hafiz, Mohammed Ahmed al-Munawar and Jamal Saeed had been sentenced to death for the hijacking at Karachi airport that the Indian air hostess foiled.
But the punishment was later commuted to life sentence, which in Pakistan means 14 years in jail. The four walked out of the high-security Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi after serving their term.
The leader of the hijackers, Zayd Hassan Abd al-Latif Masud al Safarini, had been freed in 2001 — within a fortnight of 9/11 — after President Pervez Musharraf reduced his sentence.
But the Americans believed that justice had not been done in the case and US agents caught Safarini as he tried to sneak into Jordan. He was brought to the US, where he pleaded guilty to 95 charges and will spend the rest of his life in prison.
In 2003, he was sentenced to three consecutive life terms and a further 25 years in prison.
Twenty-two passengers and crew, including Neerja who was two days short of her 23rd birthday, were killed in the attempt to hijack the American airliner on its way from Mumbai to New York.
Thanks to The Telegraph