Indian victims of Pan Am plane hijack seek Obama’s help

Saturday, November 6, 2010

CHANDIGARH - Indian passengers of Pan Am World Airways flight 73, which was hijacked at Karachi en route from Mumbai to New York in September 1986, Saturday urged US President Barack Obama to re-look the case of compensation for them.

“President Obama extolled the courage and fortitude of the Indians during the Mumbai terror attack but we would also like to remind him that the brave Indian flight crew, led by Neerja Bhanot, saved the lives of American passengers by hiding their passports from the hijackers,” said Dharmendra Shah, a hijack victim.

“President Obama must take a look at the fact that the Libya-backed hijackers had attacked the American plane in retaliation for US fighter jets bombing Tripoli. It was a war against America in which we innocent Indians got trapped,” Shah said in a statement here.

Flight 73 was hijacked from Karachi by terrorists from Libya Sep 5, 1986 but the flight crew risked their lives to save passengers, mostly US citizens, from being killed.

Bhanot, a brave 23-year-old senior purser of Pan Am, gave her own life while saving passengers during the hijack at Karachi airport.

Bhanot, who hailed from Chandigarh, was the youngest recipient of the Ashoka Chakra, India’s highest peacetime gallantry award for bravery, in 1987.

The US administration in 2008 excluded the Indian hijack victims from getting compensation from funds given that year by Libya to the US for the victims of various Libya-related terrorist crimes who had filed suits against Libya in US courts.

The Indian victims were also a part of a group of 178 plaintiffs who filed a case in a Washington DC court. However, the US administration decided that the funds would only be given to American passengers who were part of this case.

“Are our lives not as precious as those of the Americans,” asked Gopal Dadhirao, who lost his wife in the hijack incident and was himself seriously injured.

“It is a terrible turn of events,” said 83-year-old Rama Bhanot, Neerja’s mother.

“My daughter died while saving American passengers. She was an employee of an American airline and was on an American plane when she died…yet the American government disowned all responsibility towards her and other Indians. I hope President Obama takes note of the plea,” she added.

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