The Obligations of Pan Am 73’s Pilots
I just got out of Ram Madhvani’s ‘Neerja’ and on the way down the multiplex staircase, heard this group talk about the Pilot’s cowardice for running away from the airplane. The brave heart Neerja Bhanot saved 340 lives on Pan Am 73 but has the movie failed at addressing the fundamentals of the hijack?
Were the pilots and the the navigator cowards for running away from the situation? They exited the Pan Am Boeing 747-121 through a cockpit roof hatch meant for emergencies.
Absolutely NOT! By exiting the airplane before the terrorists got to the cockpit, the cockpit crew probably saves more lives than one can imagine.
The FIRST and foremost concern with an aircraft hijacked on the ground, from a negotiators perspective, is to NOT let it take off. A hijacked airplane on the ground is leaps and bounds easier to manage than an aircraft in the air.
In fact, if one is to refer back to the movie, they have spent a few seconds showing the cockpit crew converse with each other while the terrorist tried to get the cockpit door open. The Captain says, ‘We follow protocol.’
This is precisely why the pilots exited and ran away from the aircraft! Had they been in there, the next, most obvious move for the terrorists would have been to have them take off and move the airplane to a more (for the want of a better word) ‘conducive’ country.
By exiting the aircraft, the cockpit crew kept the situation localized to Karachi aerodrome. While a lot can be said about the shoddy handling of negotiations at Karachi, and I as an Indian would not want to get into that for the sheer bias in my opinion, the setting could not have been better for negotiators.
A counter narrative to the terrorist’s intentions says the airplane was going to actually be driven into a target in Israel. If there’s even a little bit of truth in that, the pilots probably saved way more lives that they are (or not) given credit for.
Kudos to the brave heart Neerja Bhanot and a great movie by Ram Madhvani!