An Actual Profile In Courage and Heroism: The Anniversary of Neerja Bhanot’s Bravery and Sacrifice Should Not Go Unremarked

Neerja Bhanot Pan Am Trust

(Neerja Bhanot)

I meant to get to this on the 20th, but all the excitement from Infrastructure Week got me carried away with other matters.

Thirty-three years and three days ago, Neerja Bhanot, a 23 year old flight attendant, risked and ultimately sacrificed her life protecting the passengers of Pan Am 73, during an attempted and thwarted highjacking by Islamic extremists before the plane could take off from Karachi, Pakistan.

From the Pan Am Historical Foundation’s tribute page:

Remembering Neerja Bhanot on hijacked Pan Am Flight 73. She died heroically, saving Pan Am passengers from terrorists on Sept. 5, 1986.

Neerja Bhanot was senior flight purser on the Empress of the Seas, a  Pan Am 747 hijacked at Jinnah International Airport in Karachi by four armed men from the Abu Nidal organization en route to Frankfurt and New York. During a 17-hour ordeal, she helped the three-member cockpit crew escape in order to ground the plane so it could not be flown. Bhanot hid passports of passengers so the hijackers could not determine passenger nationalities. She also managed to open the emergency door assisting a number of passengers to escape from the plane. As the hijackers opened fire on passengers and crew, Neerja Bhanot lost her life shielding three children from bullets.

In 1987, she became the youngest and first woman recipient of the Ashoka Chakra award, India’s highest civilian decoration for bravery.

In 2004, the Indian Postal Service issued a stamp in her honor* (

In 2006 she was awarded the 2006 Special Courage Award by the US Department of Justice. (Read more at Times of India.)

In 2016 a film entitled “Neerja” was released, portraying her herioc life.

Today the Neerja Bhanot Pan Am Trust continues to do great work in memory of this amazing woman. You can learn about the Neerja Awards and the trust at

Here’s some more details about her in an excellent Twitter thread:

The world could use more Neerja Bhanots!

Open thread.

47 replies
  1. 1
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    I am desperately ashamed that I had completely forgotten about this brave and resourceful young woman — though reading her story above brings some of the details back to me.

    Thank you, Adam, for reminding us of Neerja Bhanot and what she did 33 years ago.

    ETA: Nice palate-cleanser after the discussion of the hideous Dinesh D’S in the thread downstairs.

  2. 2
    Lapassionara says:

    Thank you, Adam. I don’t know why I had never heard this before, but I am so glad you posted this. May her example give us the courage we need now.

  3. 3
    Mary G says:

    Wow. Will have to look for the movie.

  4. 4
    frosty says:

    Thanks for this post Adam. I hadn’t heard her story before and it’s something I needed to see today with one bleak news story after another. The courage of someone who knew what needed to be done and did her duty, risking the consequences.

  5. 5
    Elizabelle says:

    Amazing woman. Very resourceful. Too soon gone.

  6. 6
    Rob says:

    Thank you, Adam, for this post. I had heard of her story before, perhaps when India issued the stamp in her honor in 2004. It is a nice counterpoint to reading the DD discussion in the other thread.

  7. 7
    Gvg says:

    I remember hijackings used to happen so often when I was young. Then it seemed to trail off. It seems like certain crime come and go into fashion.
    I don’t recall this story, but I am glad to hear about it.

  8. 8
    Ladyraxterinok says:

    Thanks for posting this. I do not remember hearing about her at all

  9. 9

    Thank you for this. A true hero. My day needed this.

  10. 10
    Elizabelle says:

    Neerja was very brave, and that whole crew was well-trained. Only 23.

  11. 11
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    The world could use more Neerja Bhanots!

    Unfortunately, this is true. The world would be a better place if we didn’t need anyone like her.

  12. 12
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: They can both be true and are.

  13. 13

    Bhanots lived in Navjivan society Mumbai, not far from where I was born. The language is Hindi, not Hindu. Neerja was a good movie. Shabana Azmi is particularly good as Neerja’s mom.

  14. 14
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @schrodingers_cat: They’re not my tweets.

  15. 15
    zhena gogolia says:

    I had forgotten this. A remarkable woman.

    I hope I’m not too OT, but it’s an open thread, so — I called Rosa De Lauro’s office today, and she immediately changed her tune. I had no idea I was so powerful.

    Long-time Pelosi ally Rep. Rosa DeLauro says that she’ll back impeachment proceedings if Trump does not comply with congressional oversight demands on Ukraine.

  16. 16
    Mary G says:

    More from WaPo:

    President Trump told his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, to hold back almost $400 million in military aid for Ukraine at least a week before a phone call in which Trump is said to have pressured the Ukrainian president to investigate the son of former vice president Joe Biden, according to three senior administration officials.

    Officials at the Office of Management and Budget relayed Trump’s order to the State Department and the Pentagon during an interagency meeting in mid-July, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. They explained that the president had “concerns” and wanted to analyze whether the money needed to be spent.

    Administration officials were instructed to tell lawmakers that the delays were part of an “interagency process” but to give them no additional information — a pattern that continued for nearly two months, until the White House released the funds on the night of Sept. 11.

  17. 17

    @Adam L Silverman: I was correcting the record, not you.

  18. 18

    A true hero.

    In other news, as if you needed another reminder that Wilmer Bros are fauxgressive trash:

    Trans actress Angelica Ross quits Twitter after vicious attacks from Bernie Sanders supporters

  19. 19
    zhena gogolia says:

    @Sister Golden Bear:

    I did not need it, but thanks!

  20. 20
    Gin & Tonic says:

    @Mary G: Is OMB typically involved in processing appropriations for foreign military assistance?

  21. 21
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Gin & Tonic: No, but Mulvaney is both Acting Chief of Staff and Senate Confirmed Director of the Office of Management and Budget. Most of his loyal, senior aides are in the political appointments at OMB. So when he wanted something done, and didn’t want it to look like the White House was (directly) involved, he laundered it through his trusted agents at OMB.

  22. 22
    Fair Economist says:

    She was amazing. If I’d seen a movie with a character being so skillful at thwarting hijackers I’d say it wasn’t plausible.

  23. 23
    Baud says:

    @Sister Golden Bear:

    It’s as if Angelica doesn’t even care who her god is.

  24. 24
    balconesfault says:

    Paraphrasing Bertold Brecht…

    Unhappy is the land that has no Neerja Bhanots.

    No – unhappy is the land that needs a Neerja Bhanot.

  25. 25
    Gin & Tonic says:

    I think I’m going to rack out rather than researching why “No Vaseline” is trending on Twitter at the moment. And if someone else is brave enough, maybe keep the results to yourself.

  26. 26
    jl says:

    Thanks for posting this inspiring and tragic story. I didn’t know about it.

  27. 27
    Mike in NC says:

    Amazing story I knew nothing about. Thanks.

  28. 28
    Jay says:

    What’s that you say? Sorry, I can’t hear you over the sonic boom Elizabeth Warren just made as she rocketed past Biden and Sanders.— (((Tae Phoenix))) (@TaePhoenix) September 23, 2019

  29. 29
    Jay says:

    Trump whines "fake news" about accurate reports of his abuse of power, but Ukrainian anti-corruption activists like @dkaleniuk have been smeared in phony YouTube videos disguised as international news clips – produced, as @ScottMStedman discovered, by Israeli spy firm Psy-Group— Robert Mackey (@RobertMackey) September 24, 2019

  30. 30
    Ruckus says:

    The world could use more Neerja Bhanots!

    It undoubtably could.
    The world could also use far fewer people who design to kill others for really nothing or for their own wealth and power. Then the Neerja Bhanots of the world wouldn’t need to give their lives so others could live.

  31. 31
    Jay says:

    The CEO of Danske Bank, which laundered billions of dirty Russian money, has gone missing.— Scott Stedman (@ScottMStedman) September 23, 2019

  32. 32
    Adam L Silverman says:


  33. 33
    Jay says:

    Our pals.— Justin Logan (@JustinTLogan) September 22, 2019

  34. 34
    Dan B says:

    @Sister Golden Bear: I wonder how many of the twitter attacks on Angelica Ross were Bernie supporters and how many were Russian? I also wonder if we will ever know how many of the attacks on progressives and minorities are from hostile nations. It’s the fog of war. We are embattled.

  35. 35
    Betty Cracker says:

    What a remarkable woman. Thanks for posting this. Her story should be more widely known.

  36. 36
  37. 37
    smike says:

    @Dan B:
    My thoughts exactly. Fog it is.

  38. 38
    gorram says:

    “Hindu language” oh dear, oh no

  39. 39
    Bighorn Ordovician Dolomite says:

    Wow. A truly remarkable and inspiring woman and story. Thank you for sharing, I didn’t know any of this.

  40. 40

    If you have not seen the movie made recounting this history, see it, it is a fine recounting of the story and her heroic acts. Worth the investment of time.

  41. 41
    Kat in Buffalo says:

    Hi Adam – Abu Nidal Organization was not an Islamist terrorist group. It was largely secular, vehemently anti-Western and anti-any compromise with Israel, and had ties with the Ba’athist regime in Iraq (which then turned on him), as well as Syria and Libya. Ideology of the terrorist group otherwise was nebulous (not a die-hard Marxist group like PFLP, for ex.), but not Islamist. Abu Nidal himself can best be described as a murderous, psychotic mercenary.

  42. 42

    @Kat in Buffalo: Thanks Kat, that was my recollection too but I was not 100% sure. I think it was almost 3 years ago when Neerja was among the 3 movies I asked BJers to choose from, that they wanted me to review. Queen ended up winning that poll.

  43. 43
    VOR says:

    I had never heard of Neerja Bhanot but now I will never forget. What an amazing act of bravery. Truly a hero and the world needs more people like her.

  44. 44
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Kat in Buffalo: If only someone, like me, had written a chapter in one of his two masters theses on the Abu Nidal Organization. Then, perhaps, that person might be able to know exactly what motivated both Nidal and his people.

  45. 45

    @Adam L Silverman: The Tweeter you are quoting seems to be much less knowledgeable than you. Ergo, you should join Twitter. I will certainly follow you.

  46. 46

    @AdamSilverman: In Kat’s defense and my own comment from last night, when you quote someone’s tweets in your blog post your readers may interpret that you are in agreement with the Tweeter.

  47. 47
    Kat in Buffalo says:

    @AdamSilverman Wow! That was a snarky, insecure retort really unworthy of you, and I say that as an admirer who recommends most of you write to others. Guess what? I also researched and wrote about Abu Nidal while working for my MA degree in Arabic and Middle East Studies. I have talked with people in the Middle East who have spent years studying him & his mercenary band of terrorists and even meeting with former operatives. And you offered no evidence to correct me, if I am truly wrong, which I would have appreciated and gone back to my sources. But instead you took it as an affront to your intelligence. You said without quotation marks (thus your words) that: Thirty-three years and three days ago, Neerja Bhanot, a 23 year old flight attendant, risked and ultimately sacrificed her life protecting the passengers of Pan Am 73, during an attempted and thwarted highjacking by Islamic extremists before the plane could take off from Karachi, Pakistan. Very disappointed in your reaction.

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