Pan Am survivors recall the horrific tale of Neerja’s murder

WEB DESK:Two survivors Dr.Kishore Murthy  and his wife Dr.Veena Bharathi dared to recall the tragic tale of Indian flight attendant, Neerja Bhanot’s murder when a a Pan Am Flight 73 was hijacked in Karachi on 5 September 1986.

Dr. Kishore Murthy was flying to New York to present a paper on rheumatic heart disease and hypertension when the ill fated plane was hijacked.

His and his wife’s  first person account was recently published by The Times of India. 

The Pan Am Flight 73 on its way from Mumbai to New York via Karachi and Frankfurt was hijacked on September 5, 1986. Four terrorists in the guise of airport security staff entered the aircraft in Karachi.Twenty of the 380 flyers were killed.

Neerja, the senior flight attendant, who was shot by the leader of the terrorist group, is said to have played a pivotal role in the survival of many.

“I saw her getting shot. She was shot in the head, point blank. Sitting in the sixth row from the front, I saw her during her last moments,” said Dr Kishore Murthy, recalling the fearless Neerja Bhanot.

He went on to say :”Neerja was absolutely calm and efficient through the horrific episode. She was the first one to alert the captain, the co-pilot and first officers about a possible hijack and it was on her instruction they made their way out from the cockpit, ensuring that the plane could not take off.”

Praising her for her sense of humanity, Dr Murthy said: “She was a true global citizen and did not discriminate between Indians and Americans. I remember she and another flight attendant helped us out of the exit door when one of the terrorists was targeting us.”

He added: “There was constant firing of rounds. The auxiliary power unit had failed and the terrorists feared a commando attack. Hence, they started firing indiscriminately,” recalled Dr Murthy, now 60 and a hospital management expert with St John’s Hospital.

“She was very caring towards all the passengers, especially the elderly and children. I didn’t see her lose her cool for even a moment. She was very efficient during the crisis,” said Dr Murthy.

“I saw some posts on Facebook saying she died before her 23rd birthday but the truth is Neerja was already 23 and was shot two days before her 24th birthday. She had asked her parents to organize a small family get-together for her birthday but unfortunately they had to collect her coffin a day after her 24th birthday,” said Dr Veena.

Negating the false information about Neerja being killed when she was shielding a group of children, Dr Veena said, “She was guiding the passengers to the emergency exit. That is when the terrorists were firing constantly fearing a commando attack. They saw Neerja relentlessly trying to help the passengers out and that is when they caught her by her ponytail and shot her point blank.”

Dr Murthy  and his wife Dr Veena Bharathi, have worked closely with Neerja’s family to document her life, and have helped with the making of the upcoming biopic ‘Neerja’ which stars Bollywood actress Sonam Kapoor as Neerja.

The movie is all set to release on February 19 and also stars veteran actor Shabana Azmi as Neerja’s on screen mother.

Neerja Bhanot  won the Ashok Chakra, making her the youngest recipient of India’s highest peacetime military award for bravery.

She was also awarded the Tamgha-e-Insaaniyat by the Pakistani government.