I disembarked from Flight 72 in Bombay, India, in the early morning hours of September 5th. As I exited the jetway I greeted the Indian crew, who were waiting eagerly to board Flight 73, on their way back to Karachi, and then scheduled on to Frankfurt.
As a Pan Am flight attendant working on Special Assignment, I had been sent to Bombay in February of 1986 to train our new Indian foreign national flight attendants, a bright and beautiful group of individuals. Little did I ever anticipate they would be in harm's way a mere six months later, and would be responsible for the safety and security of 379 passengers during this incredibly frightening event.
On this day, I was on my way back to India for a personal visit, and was so proud to see these wonderful new flight attendants brilliantly groomed and happy, and I gave them each a heartfelt hug before they boarded Flight 73.
The hijacking ensued after the plane landed in Karachi, as it sat on the ground waiting to make final preparations to take off. The boarding door was still open, when terrorists, dressed as security guards, stormed the plane. After being tipped off by the Purser, Neerja Bhanot, the pilots fled the cockpit, in a sanctioned security move to effectively ground the aircraft. Though this action probably saved many lives, it left the newbie flight attendants, who had just completed their six months of probationary service, to defend the passenger’s safety. Their heroic acts saved many lives.
Neerja Bhanot, chief Purser on Flight 73, lost her life that day, as she sheltered unaccompanied minors from harm. Neerja became a national hero, immortalized by her valiant deeds, and a Bollywood movie called "Neerja" released earlier this year. The movie reenacted the events that occurred on that day, and Neerja's heroism. She and her crew saved many passenger's lives by hiding American passports. When the shooting started and the hijacking came to a bloody end, the whole crew bravely protected the lives of others before their own, though Neerja sacrificed her own life in the process.
I wrote a book called Life, Love, and a Hijacking: My Pan Am Memoir, which details my involvement with the events that day and what ensued in the aftermath of Flight 73 while I was in India.
Although it was a sad day when Pan Am filed for bankruptcy on January 9, 1991, Pan Am still exists in the zeitgeist today more than ever. It is relevant as an iconic symbol of what travel was at its apex of glamor, and as the unofficial flag carrier of its day. Pan Am was truly a special airline, and its former employees around the world still very much consider one another “family.”
Today, people reminisce with awe about Pan Am, the carrier that literally launched international flights and was the trailblazer of the jet age. Those too young to have flown on Pan Am are intrigued by the prospect of what air travel on Pan Am used to be. Pan Am wearables, bags, flight trinkets and souvenirs are cherished, and are sought after items for young and old alike.
Here in Los Angeles, we will commemorate the 30th anniversary of Pan Am Flight 73 with a private Indian dinner attended by ex- Pan Amers, friends, and family. We will be honored to have a passenger from the flight in attendance with her family. A fifteen-year-old unaccompanied minor at the time, she will give a presentation on her experiences and insights on that fateful day.
We will honor Neerja Bhanot, the entire crew of Pan Am Flight 73, the passengers who lost their lives and those who forever have the terror of this event emblazoned on their heart. Terrorism may still exist today, but the heros of these monumental events of our nation’s history shall never be forgotten, and neither will Pan Am.