Father and son round-the-world flight ends in tragedy in the Pacific


Babar Suleman, left, and son Haris Suleman, 17, stand next to their plane at an airport in Greenwood, Ind., before taking off for an around-the-world flight. (AP Photo/The Indianapolis Star, Robert Scheer)

For all the excitement of their father-son around-the-world journey, Babar and Haris Suleman were under no illusions about the challenges they faced in a single-engine plane. They encountered engine trouble just days before their scheduled start from Plainfield, Ind., according to the father’s online diary entry on June 10, with the engine “coughing up” at about 19,000 feet.

Just to be prepared, his father put himself in the “mindset that we will have to ditch,” as Babar Suleman wrote months before the trip began, checking off gear they would need: life jackets, a four-person raft, five days’ worth of food and water, shark repellent, GPS tracker, beacons and “fishing gear to allow us to catch fish if need be.”

In this Thursday, June 19, 2014 photo, Babar Suleman and son Haris Suleman, 17, take off from an airport in Greenwood, Ind. for an around-the-world flight. On Wednesday, July 23, 2014, a single-engine plane with two aboard crashed in waters off American Samoa, with a registration number matching the plane flown by the Indiana teen attempting to fly around the world in 30 days. (AP Photo/The Indianapolis Star, Robert Scheer)
Babar Suleman and son Haris Suleman, 17, take off from an airport in Greenwood, Ind., for an around-the-world flight on June 19, 2014. (Robert Scheer/The Indianapolis Star via AP)

Yesterday, when the Sulemans’ Beech A36 Bonanza went down shortly after takeoff from Pago Pago in American Samoa at about 10:15 p.m., there was apparently no time or opportunity for ditching. The plane was found in pieces, according to a Coast Guard officer in Honolulu, with the body of Haris, 17, nearby. They were still looking for the father today, the Coast Guard said.

The Samoa News quoted Captain Tulele Laolagi as saying: “We found a young boy still strapped to his seat. I think he was ejected from the plane, but it’s too early to tell.” Authorities were alerted to its location by signals from the flight’s emergency beacon system, the paper said.

A 17-year-old pilot from Plainfield, Ind., who was trying to fly around the world in 30 days, is dead and his father is missing after their small plane crashed on Tuesday night near American Samoa. (Reuters)
Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon
According to Captain Tulele Laolagi “We found a young boy still strapped to his seat.  I think he was ejected from the plane, but it’s too early to tell as we continue our investigation into the matter.” – See more at: http://www.samoanews.com/content/en/one-dead-one-missing-after-private-plane-crashes-after-take-pago-pago#sthash.kCwvIE0p.dpuf
According to Captain Tulele Laolagi “We found a young boy still strapped to his seat.  I think he was ejected from the plane, but it’s too early to tell as we continue our investigation into the matter.” – See more at: http://www.samoanews.com/content/en/one-dead-one-missing-after-private-plane-crashes-after-take-pago-pago#sthash.kCwvIE0p.dpuf
According to Captain Tulele Laolagi “We found a young boy still strapped to his seat.  I think he was ejected from the plane, but it’s too early to tell as we continue our investigation into the matter.” – See more at: http://www.samoanews.com/content/en/one-dead-one-missing-after-private-plane-crashes-after-take-pago-pago#sthash.kCwvIE0p.dpuf
According to Captain Tulele Laolagi “We found a young boy still strapped to his seat.  I think he was ejected from the plane, but it’s too early to tell as we continue our investigation into the matter.” – See more at: http://www.samoanews.com/content/en/one-dead-one-missing-after-private-plane-crashes-after-take-pago-pago#sthash.kCwvIE0p.dpuf

The bad news came first from Haris’s sister, Hiba, on Facebook:

Before the news breaks, I’d like to thank everyone for their support of my father and brother throughout this trip, as well as for the support given to my mom, brother and myself as we waited for their safe return.

Haris and my dad’s plane went down upon take off in American Samoa. Haris has been found- he did not make it. My father has not yet been found. Please pray that my dad is found alive and well. Also, hug your siblings and parents- tell them you love them, a hundred time. A thousand times. It will never feel like it’s been said quite often enough.

At a news conference, she said, “We don’t really know what happened with the plane,” according to ABC. She said the plane took off at 9:50 p.m. local time and, at 10:15 p.m., the air traffic controller saw the lights of the plane go down about 23 miles off American Samoa.

samoacrash24

They were shooting for a 30-day voyage — and a record for the youngest pilot to circumnavigate the globe. They were in Goose Bay in Canada on June 22; Reykjavík, Iceland, Britain, Rome and Egypt by June 29; Kuala Lampur, Malaysia, where Haris was still fighting off illness, perhaps food poisoning, he got in Pakistan, delaying the trip; and Bali, Indonesia, on July 20, when Babar posted what appeared to be his last diary entry.

The father, an engineer, was a lifelong pilot from a family of pilots, according to the Web site set up to follow the journey. Haris had been flying since he was 8. He got his license in June. The Pakistani Americans’ flight would not only have set a record for youngest circumnavigator but raised money for schools in Pakistan through an organization called the Citizens Foundation.

The diary itself, linked from the foundation’s Web site, is an extraordinary real-time chronicle of wondrous sights, frustrating bureaucracy and of a bonding between father and son that would turn out to be their last.

June 22: …There is absolutely NOTHING green about Greenland….It is one icy chunk of rock with a bunch of ice on it and floating all around it.  As we neared Greenland, Saturday was a national holiday and we were advised by the Air Traffic Controllers that if we had to land in Greenland for any reason whatsoever, they would charge us a $1200 seeing-your-face-fee.  How much more unwelcome can a place be….first they have nothing but rock and ice and then they charge you an arm and a leg…NOPE, I have no use for that ‘country’….. PASS…next….

June 29: The lazy Italian handler showed up and informed us that the fuel truck would be over in 15 minutes….Another 30 minutes went by and no fuel truck. By this time I was quite agitated and no longer wanted to deal with the lazy/slacker Italian…There was an airport about 8 miles but first I must cancel my existing flight plan to Egypt…”

June 30: “We came to realize that a lot of stuff was done in Egypt for no other reason than ‘it’s policy,’ whether it makes any kind of sense or not has no bearing on why it was being done. For everything there is a ‘carbon copy’ form that must be filled out and signed by the filler and one of us..”

July 16 in Kuala Lumpur: “We were sure that what started in Pakistan was not properly cured and with a little travel stress, it all came back.  This time it must be completely cured before we press on….While all of this illness was going on, there was a mention of the world cup final being played during the illness…..hmmm…could that have something to do with the illness…I am not sure, but I have my suspicions as we are a strong soccer/football family….  For the next two days, I stayed in the hotel room with Haris and made sure he took his medication and ate and drank plenty of fluids to nurse him back to health”

Here are what appear to be the boy’s last tweets:

Fred Barbash, the editor of Morning Mix, is a former National Editor and London Bureau Chief for the Washington Post.
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