September 5, 1986, a Pan Am flight attendant named Neerja Bhanot was killed by hijackers after saving the lives of more than a hundred passengers. It was indeed a story of true heroism from a flight attendant who boarded her flight the same day without knowing that it would be her last. Her story is an untold one of what a flight attendant actually lives for, and that is for the lives of their passengers, until 2016.
The Pan Am flew from Bombay (now Mumbai) to Karachi when four hijackers got through security check and boarded the aircraft armed with assault rifles, grenades, plastic explosives, and pistols. Neerja Bhanot, a senior flight attendant then, was able to alert the pilots of the hijackers and they were able to escape through the cockpit hatch. She showed no fear.
Safety procedure says that during a hijack while the aircraft is still on the ground, pilots should be the first ones to escape and get out of the cockpit right away.
The terrorists then asked Neerja to collect all the passports. Instead of giving it to the terrorists, she hid all American passports. As she was handing out reading materials to the passengers in the middle of the situation, she hid instructions on some of the materials on how to open the exit doors and handed them to passengers seated by the exit rows.
Neerja's calm courage irritated the hijackers. They would point their guns at her while she was serving coffee and sandwiches to the passengers in the middle of the incident. Yes despite it all, she went on doing her duties as a flight attendant.
Seventeen hours into the hijacking, the onboard power supply of the aircraft ran out which plunged the cabin to darkness. The hijackers panicked which prompted them to open fire in all directions and setting off explosives.
Neerja then managed to help a passenger open one of the exits which allowed her to make passengers get out. "Get out! Run!" she shouted kneeling down while helping passengers escape and shielding three children from the spray of bullets.
One hijacker saw Neerja freeing the passengers and shot her right on her head point blank.
Neerja sacrificed her life while saving 359 other lives! Not all heroes wear capes, some wear wings.
She died a hero.
Neerja's story tells us the true essence of what a flight attendant. Despite the situation, they are ready to risk their own lives in order to save the lives of their passengers. Yes these accidents and life threatening situations are rare. More often than not, you will see your cabin crew doing safety demos, announcements, and serving you onboard meals. Behind what you see with your eyes in every flight attendant is a soul who is ready to put their life at risk and grave danger, just to make sure you are far from harm's way.
Below is the last recorded flight announcement of Neerja Bhanot.