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Air hostess was shot dead after saving passengers from hijacking by hiding their passports

Air hostess was shot dead after saving passengers from hijacking by hiding their passports

She became the youngest recipient of India's highest honour for her bravery

In 1986, a 22-year-old woman became a hero after her selfless actions during a plane hijacking.

Groups who carry out hijackings often do so to hold passengers and crew hostage and then use them as leverage to have demands met, whether they're financial or political.

Neerja Bhanot was called the hero of the hijacking.
Family Handout

And as 9/11 showed the world, planes in flight can also be turned into weapons themselves. Truly terrifying.

The 379 passengers and crew on Pan Am Flight 73 in 1986 found themselves in just such an awful situation when members of the Abu Nidal Organisation, an offshoot of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, hijacked the flight.

The aircraft had landed for a scheduled stopover in Karachi in Pakistan after departing from Mumbai. During the stopover, gunmen stormed the plane and took control of it.

Fortunately thanks to the quick thinking of air hostess Neerja Bhanot, the plane did not take off. Neerja had been out of sight of the attackers, and was able to communicate the hijacking code to the pilots.

The pilots then immediately evacuated the aircraft, meaning that it could not take off as there was no one to fly it.

Another steward, Dilip Bidichandani, said that the pilots' escape probably saved a lot of lives.

Pan-Am flight 73 in 1986.

They previously told the BBC: "The pilots evacuating the airplane… meant that we were not at the mercy of the terrorists, who could have instructed the plane to be flown into a building, or even blown up whilst in flight."

The terrorists were targeting Americans and American assets, and shot dead an Indian-American citizen who was on the flight. Their plan had been to fly the plane to Cyprus where they would demand the release of Palestinian prisoners being held there.

Neerja, who was the most senior staff member on the plane, helped to hide the passports of 43 American passengers on the plane, concealing their identities from the hijackers.

After a tense standoff, the hijackers opened fire with assault rifles and explosives. Neerja was able to open one of the aircraft doors and help get people out to safety.

Even though she could have been the first person to leave the plane, she stayed to help get people off the aircraft including a number of children who she shielded from bullets.

It was at this point that she was confronted by one of the hijackers, who proceeded to shoot her dead at point-blank range.

She was posthumously awarded the Ashoka Chakra, India's most prestigious award. Her bravery was also commemorated in the 2016 Hindi language film Neerja.

Featured Image Credit: Family Handout/KRAIPIT PHANVUT/Getty Images

Topics: News, World News, US News