Saving lives

Saving lives

Courageous flight attendants

The life of flight attendants is often glamorized: they travel to faraway countries, get to know different people and wear a beautiful uniform. However, not everyone comprehends that this occupation is dangerous as well. Besides flying high in the sky, these slender in build young women sometimes risk their lives saving passengers.

PanARMENIAN.Net - Here are some stories about their courage:

Neerja Bhanot

Neerja Bhanot was born in Chandigarh, India, and brought up in Mumbai in a Punjabi family. After graduating from St. Xavier's College, applied for a flight attendant job with Pan American World Airways. On the morning of September 5, 1986, Pan Am Flight 73 landed in Karachi. It had arrived from Mumbai and, had nothing gone wrong, would have departed for Frankfurt and onward to New York. There were 14 flight attendants on board, 12 of whom were preparing for take-off. Outside, four gunmen had sped on to the tarmac in a van disguised as airport security. The men entered the Boeing 747, firing shots into the air. The gunmen's plan was to force the pilots to fly them to Cyprus and Israel, where other members of their militant group were incarcerated on terror charges. After the terrorists boarded the plane, Neerja alerted the cockpit crew, who escaped through an overhead hatch in the cockpit. As the senior-most crew member remaining on board, this left Neerja in charge. One of the terrorists asked the flight crew to collect and hand over the passports of all passengers on board. When Neerja realized that the primary targets of the terrorists were American passengers, she hid their passports – even discarding some of them down the rubbish chute. From a total of 41 American passengers, only 2 were killed.

After holding passengers and crew members hostage for 17 hours on the runway, the terrorists opened fire. Neerja stayed on the plane to help passengers escape, even though she could have been the first to leave. She was shot while shielding three children from the bullets being fired by the terrorists.

“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,” recollected singer and composer Nayan Pancholi, who was on board.

Victoria Silberstein

As many girls in Russia, Victoria Silberstein dreamt of a career as a flight attendant. Amazed by far-off lands and attractive uniform, she got the job. On that tragic day, Victoria was on the board of a plane bound for the Siberian city of Irkutsk. Everything was as usual, but after asking the passengers to fasten the belts, Victoria understood that something had gone wrong. Then she felt a jolt and saw the smoke. “I have to rescue the passengers,” she thought. She pulled the emergency escape cover and let people out, choking with smoke. Then she jumped out herself. When she regained senses in hospital, she was told that the aircraft exploded and the majority of passengers were saved thanks to her courage and professional behavior.

Sheila Frederick

Flight attendant Sheila Frederick 49, was working on an Alaska Airlines flight from Seattle to San Francisco when she noticed the girl, who looked around 15 years old, and immediately knew something was wrong. The disheveled teenage girl was flying with an older and well-dressed man. When Frederick tried to speak to the two, the man seemed defensive and answered for the girl. So Frederick signaled for her to go to the restroom, where she had left her a note asking her if she was OK. The girl responded, writing back on the note, “I need help.” Frederick then notified the flight’s pilot, who notified law enforcement, which met the flight at the gate when it landed. The man was then arrested for human trafficking.

Santizo Arriola and Nicole Foren

When flight 918 operated by CanJet, a charter airline that flies to Caribbean hotspots - Mexico, Jamaica and Cuba - out of Halifax Stanfield International Airport (Canada), was hijacked in 2009, the bravery of flight attendants, Santizo Arriola and Nicole Foren, made them national heroes. The story began minutes after the plane landed in Montego Bay, where some passengers had disembarked, others stayed on for the next stop in Cuba, and still others streamed aboard with Halifax as their ultimate destination in the double-stop journey. That’s about the time an armed man identified as Stephen Fray ran armed through security and onto the aircraft. Coincidentally, it was also shortly after Prime Minister Stephen Harper arrived in Jamaica for a working visit.

Arriola, then 28, said she suggested Fray free the passengers so long as they turned over their cash and left their belongings behind. Foran, the most senior of the attendants at the back of the plane, came forward to hold a bag as the passengers dropped their cash and disembarked, some crying and apologizing for leaving the crew behind. Four flight attendants and a security contractor were taken hostage in the passenger cabin, while two more crew – the in-charge flight attendant and the co-pilot – were locked in the cockpit. The captain had been freed under the pretense that he was arranging fuel for take-off. In the ensuing eight or so hours, as darkness gave way to the morning sunlight, Fray, according to the women, threatened to kill the contractor, dragged the gun up and down their legs, forced them to cover their heads with clothing, and demanded money and a swift departure.

Growing increasingly paranoid, the gunman made an unsuccessful request for music (Celine Dion) and alcohol. He also decided to drug the men so they’d be unable to mount a physical threat, insisting that they take some of the prescription pills that had spilled out from the carry-ons. Arriola said she picked up a bottle, recognized it as an antacid and convinced Fray it was the best option to “knock them right out.”

Later, when Fray was holding the gun to Foran and looking out the window, a Canadian-trained Jamaican anti-terrorism squad stormed the plane. Amid the commotion, Foran did what Arriola described as a “ninja move” and grabbed Fray’s gun. The man was sentenced to roughly 20 years behind bars.

Nitzan Rabinowitz and Mor Levi

Flight attendants can save lives even when they are not on board. El Al stewardess Nitzan Rabinowitz, 25, noticed that her cell phone was missing a few minutes before her plane was due to depart, but decided to re-trace her steps to find it. She and one of her colleagues, Mor Levi, 22, went all the way back to the train station at the airport, where they saw an elderly Chinese tourist laying on the ground unconscious, while his terrified daughter looked on. The two flight attendants, who were both trained in first aid, performed CPR on the man for half an hour.

After the man was finally able to breathe on his own, the man was taken to a hospital. The successful actions led to the plane departing 15 minutes late, and the passengers were not notified of the cause of the delay.

“We felt that we did what was expected of us,” the young women said. “We were crying (from the emotions) at the beginning of the flight, but then we relaxed, and continued to work as usual.”

Meanwhile, Rabinowitz’s cell phone was found.

Lusine Mkrtumova / PanARMENIAN.Net
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