Sonam Kapoor’s film ‘Neerja’, based on the hijacking of the Pan Am airline and bravery of Pan Am flight attendant Neerja Bhanot, has been receiving good reviews from critics as well as the audience. No doubt its a touching movie that touched the hearts of many, but surviving crew members of the flight say that the film is more fictional and ignores the efforts & bravery of the other flight attendants.
In the movie, Neerja manages to save 359 lives on the plane, but could not survive herself (is shot while protecting three kids from the terrorists). However, Nupoor Abrol, one of the crew members who was on-board the Pan Am flight claims that in the movie, undeserved adulation has been given to Neerja Bhanot. She has hit back at the makers of the film for wrong depiction of the entire incident.
Nupoor posted on FB, “Yes, truly a very difficult moment. But also a difficult moment for all those flight attendants to accept the movie for what it is unfairly propagating. Neerja was a wonderful person and I think even her soul today would cringe at taking this undeserved adulation. Not fair to the FA’s who have in reality faced their ordeal!”
“I was incidental in that plot. It was Astrid, Sherene, Sunshine and off course Massey who were the real heroes of the day. I am glad today I can show my gratitude to them.”
Crew member hits out at makers of the movie ‘Neerja’, says film is ‘fiction’ and not ‘reality’
About the Hijacking
Pan Am Flight 73, a Pan American World Airways Boeing 747-121, with 360 passengers on board, was hijacked on September 5, 1986, while on the ground in Karachi (it had just arrived from Mumbai and was on its way to Frankfurt and ultimately to New York City), by four armed Palestinian men of the Abu Nidal Organization.
Surviving hostage Michael Thexton had published a book in which he claimed he had heard the hijackers intended to crash the plane into a target in Israel (in the manner of 9/11).
Neerja Bhanot, head attendant on the flight, first hid the passports of American passengers so that they could not be distinguished from non-Americans. Later, when the hijackers opened fire on passengers and planted explosives, Neerja opened an emergency exit to let the passengers through, for which, she was fatally shot by the terrorists.
Dr Kishore Murthy, a survivor from the ill-fated Pan Am flight recalls the incidents on that day inside the flight:
“I was on my way to the US to attend an international conference. We were to take a Pan Am Mumbai-Frankfurt-New York flight. It came as a surprise to us at Bombay airport when we were told the flight would first land at the Karachi International Airport and then proceed to Frankfurt. Prior to our departure, we had heard that all airports in Pakistan and India were on high alert as the Americans had bombed (Libyan ruler Colonel Muammar) Gaddafi’s palace (in retaliation for the Libyan involvement in the bombing of a Pan Am flight, which crashed at Lockerbie, Soctland). When we landed in Karachi, the aircraft was hijacked by Libyan terrorists but Neerja, who was well trained in anti-hijack measures, alerted the pilots and they escaped through the cockpit window.”
There were approximately 400 passengers in the plane at the time and Neerja was communicating between the hijackers and the passengers and keeping everyone calm. As Dr Kishore adds to the leading website, “Neerja was communicating with the terrorists in broken Arabic. She was also translating their demands into English for the control tower. She was very brave and a true global citizen. The hijackers were looking for American passengers, so she hid their passports. Despite this, one Indian American, I don’t recall his name, got up and said he was American. He thought the terrorists were gunning for Indians because a majority of the passengers were Indians. He didn’t realise they were looking for Americans. The terrorists shot him right there and threw his body out of the plane.”
Quite a few people died in front Dr Kishore and he was shocked by the atrocities. As he went on, “25-30 passengers were killed and a large number were injured.”
Generally, when a plane lands anywhere, a generator is attached to it as it electricity to the plane when it is parked. The in-built battery is used when it lands in the sea, desert or mountain area. But on that particular day, the generator was not connected and after 18 hours, the lights started dimming in the aircraft and the terrorists thought they were going to attacked. Dr Kishore recalls, “The terrorists began screaming in Arabic. They made 300 passengers move to the front of the economy cabin. Four terrorists took position in four corners of the cabin and started shooting and throwing grenades. One person opened the door that led to the wing of the plane. I remember Neerja screaming to that passenger that he should use another escape route where there was an emergency chute. But he jumped from the wing to the ground and was, as a result, paralysed. It was very sad.”
But that wasn’t the end. Neerja kept marshaling people to the exits and this lead them to shoot her. Dr Kishore reveals, “They were probably were angry with Neerja because of the way she was thinking on her feet, marshaling the limited resources available to her and saving so many passengers. I was in the sixth row of the economy class and vividly remember how they shot her at point blank range in front of me. I was shocked to see her dying. One cannot express those feelings in words. Whenever I think of that moment, I wonder: Is this humanity? What has a 23 year old done to deserve this? She was only trying to help people.”
However, in reality the hijack continued for 20 hours. Towards the end, there was no food or water. Once the battery died, passengers were in total darkness. No one knew what was happening and in the end the people were saved. Dr Kishore mentions, “You know, Neerja was the first person who could have run away. She was trained and she knew what was happening. She was at the entrance of the aircraft when the terrorists boarded. She could have escaped like the pilots did, but she didn’t do it. That shows her guts and her inner strength. She was truly a great leader. This memory is so vivid that, even now, after 30 odd years I can’t forget her lovely face. She was an angel. If at all there is a God, for me it is her. We talk of God but no one has seen Him.Like me, there are 300 odd passengers who survived because of her. I feel this film on Neerja should have been made a long ago. This is the bravery we should be talking about.A young lady commanding a plane, negotiating with terrorists, keeping the passengers calm and maintaining her cool is the kind of bravery you rarely see in life. We came to know the terrorists were caught at Karachi airport and jailed in Pakistan for many years. After they escaped, they were caught by American forces in Bangkok and are still in jail. Neerja saved Indian and American lives that unfortunate day. I request the people of India to watch this film.”
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