— His pilot's license fresh in his hands, an Indiana teenager set out in
June for the adventure of a lifetime: an around-the-world flight with his
father designed to break a record and raise money to build schools in his
father's native Pakistan.
Just days before
the father and son were to return home to Indiana, the trip turned tragic
when their plane crashed in the Pacific Ocean shortly after leaving Pago
Pago in American Samoa on Tuesday night. The body of 17-year-old Haris
Suleman was recovered, but crews were still searching Wednesday for the
father, Babar Suleman.
The Sulemans left
the state on June 19 in hopes of setting the record for the fastest
circumnavigation around the world in a single-engine airplane with the
youngest pilot in command to do so.
For more than a
month, the trip was everything they'd hoped for, with visits to the
pyramids and rides on camels in Egypt, a family reunion in Pakistan and
much more. Even food poisoning and delays that meant they wouldn't
complete the trip in their intended 30 days couldn't dilute the teen's
enthusiasm as he saw Europe, Africa, Asia and the South Pacific.
"There is so much
beauty and culture in each country that I couldn't possibly witness all
that I want to," Haris Suleman told The Indianapolis Star in an email
sister, Hiba Suleman, said her father and brother had undergone training
to learn how to handle an ocean landing and wore protective immersion
suits when flying over water. She said it was unusual for them to take off
at night but didn't know whether that contributed to the crash.
"With a trip like
this, there's always a risk, and they did prepare for that risk. You can
plan all you want, but sometimes things just don't happen the way you
planned," she said at a news conference Wednesday in Plainfield, Indiana,
where the family lives.
The U.S. Federal
Aviation Administration has an inspector in American Samoa who will be
looking into this accident. National Transportation Safety Board spokesman
Terry Williams said the agency will work with local authorities on the
investigation, but he couldn't confirm if NTSB will send its own
investigator to the territory.
U.S. Coast Guard
spokeswoman Petty Officer Melissa McKenzie said witnesses reported seeing
the single-engine Hawker Beechcraft go down about a mile from shore
shortly after taking off from Pago Pago International Airport. The plane
was headed to Honolulu.
"It's a tragedy
of immense proportions," family friend Azhar Khan told reporters.
Haris, who had
just completed his junior year of high school, had been flying with his
father since age 8 and in June acquired his pilot's license and instrument
rating, which authorized him to fly an aircraft over oceans.
The trip was also
raising money for the Citizens Foundation, a nonprofit that builds schools
in Pakistan. The organization has built 1,000 schools for boys and girls
in Pakistan, and Khan said the father-son team had raised about $500,000,
nearly enough to build three more.
Hiba Suleman said
the cause was dear to her father, who left Pakistan in 1983. She said the
family had been involved with the foundation for the last seven years and
wanted to raise money to promote education and women's rights in her
She said the trip
had been a dream of her father's for years and that her brother was
excited to join in and pursue the record. He planned to be the pilot in
command except in an emergency.
acknowledged the risks.
"Why does any
explorer undertake the necessary risks in order to accomplish their
dream?" he wrote in a July 15 blog for the Huffington Post. "Because that
person has a drive, they have a focus, and they have a need to explore