Neerja Bhanot, the youngest recipient of the Ashoka Chakra award, was only 23 when she sacrificed her life in the line of duty.
She became the youngest recipient of India’s highest peacetime military award for bravery, the Ashok Chakra. Neerja was a flight attendant on Pan Am Flight 73, which was hijacked on 5 September, 1986, in Karachi, Pakistan, with 360 passengers on board.
Neerja Bhanot was born in Chandigarh, India, the daughter of Rama Bhanot and Harish Bhanot, a Mumbai-based journalist. She did her early schooling from Sacred Heart Sen. Sec. School, Chandigarh till class 5. She had featured in a number of commercials. Neerja’s family included her parents and two brothers — Akhil and Aneesh.
The hijackers, Palestinians, were part of the terrorist Abu Nidal Organization and were backed by Libya. The terrorists then instructed Neerja to collect the passports of all the passengers so that they could identify the Americans. The terrorists wanted to put pressure on America by identifying and threatening the Americans on the aircraft. Neerja and the other attendants under her charge hid the passports of the 41 Americans on board; some under a seat and the rest down a rubbish chute so that the hijackers could not differentiate between American and Non-American citizens.
After 17 hours, the hijackers opened fire and set off explosives. Neerja opened one of the doors, flung open an emergency chute, and assisted passengers from the aircraft. She could have been the first to jump out when she opened the door but she decided not to and was shot while shielding three children from a hail of bullets. From a total of 41 American passengers, only 2 were killed during firing. One of the children, then aged 7, is now a captain for a major airline and has stated that Neerja Bhanot has been his inspiration and he owes every day of his life to her . After her death, the government honoured her with the Ashoka Chakra.
Image Source | Content : wikipedia
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Check some of Neerja’s rare photos in the slideshow below. Many of the photos are from her commercials.