Musician Nayan Pancholi recounts how he lost his eye but survived the Pan Am flight hijack in 1986.
It was September 5, 1986. Our tickets got confirmed at the last moment on Pan-Am Flight-73, which was headed from Mumbai to New York, via Karachi and Frankfurt. We were a group of singers and music composers from Ahmedabad, who were going to perform in different cities of USA. At that time, I was just 21 years old. Our flight took off from Mumbai and landed in Karachi around 4.30 a.m. There were some passengers who got off at Karachi. Cleaners entered the aircraft and were just about the leave. This is when four armed men in airport security clothes entered the aircraft from the business class side. We were seated in economy class at the rear of the plane.
Suddenly, there were screams and three or four shots were fired in the air. One terrorist had a machine gun in his hand, another had grenades and a belt full of bullets, while the other two had many guns and grenades with them.
Everyone was told to have their hands locked above their heads. I just can’t forget that sight. Two terrorists were standing in the front and the other two were standing near the rear. In no time, Neerja Bhanot, the senior flight purser, informed the captain and the other crew members in the cockpit to flee the aircraft.
The captain, the co-pilot, and the cockpit crew had left the aircraft. Except Neerja, all other flight attendants were tied up with ropes. The terrorists used Neerja to communicate with the airline.
There were more than 350 passengers in the plane. To scare us, they even killed a person named Rakesh Kumar and threw him out of the plane.
Then, they started collecting our passports. Somehow, Neerja hid some passports of American citizens under the seats. They kept on shouting and screaming at us in Arabic and continued firing shots in the air. After some time, in the afternoon, they offered us sandwiches. But who on earth can eat food in such a difficult situation?
In the evening, they allowed everyone to go to the toilet, one after the other, by crawling on the floor with our hands locked over our heads.
I still remember, exactly after 17 hours of them hijacking the flight, the fuel ran out. Due to this, the generator of the plane went off, leading to darkness. After the lights went off, the terrorists panicked and started firing aggressively at us. They also started throwing grenades.
I saw many people die in front of my eyes.
My own group director and another girl from the group were shot dead.
I was seated near the emergency exit. I tried to open the emergency exit door, but couldn’t do it. After giving it a second try, it opened, but at the same time a grenade hit me in the left eye. And in a moment, I was down on the ground.
After that, I was taken to the terminal by the army and was later shifted to the hospital. I was given treatment at a hospital in Karachi. After 48 hours, the Indian Airlines flight took all the Indians back home. I was then taken to Jaslok Hospital in Mumbai. But, my eye couldn’t be treated there. So, I was taken to Chicago in the US for treatment, but the doctors there too couldn’t save my left eye.
This incident has had a deep impact on me. It was a very bad day for humanity. That day, nobody saw religion, caste, or creed in each other. That day we saw each other as humans and wanted to help and save each other. It’s as simple as that in end.
This article has been shared via Humans of Amdavad.