Plainfield teen dies while flying around the world with father

Babar and Haris Suleman (Photo: Kamal Faridi)
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A Plainfield teen who was flying around the world with his father died Wednesday in a crash in Pago Pago, American Samoa.

NBC News confirmed Wednesday afternoon 17-year-old Haris Suleman's body had been recovered from the crash. Authorities are still searching for his father.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating Wednesday's accident which happened shortly after takeoff in their Beech A36 Bonanza. Hiba Suleman said Wednesday the pilots took off from American Samoa around 9:50 p.m. Coast Guard officials say the plane crashed about five minutes later, about a mile from the shore. 

"We're still hopeful and we're asking everyone to pray that he is returned safely and soon," said Hiba Suleman, the daughter and sister of the victims. "Until we know what happened or where he is or we hear definitely what happened to him, if he's alive or not, we're going to keep praying."

"The Coast Guard would like to express our thoughts and prayers to the family and friends of the Sulemans," said Michael Cobb, command duty officer at the Coast Guard's Joint Rescue Coordination Center. "We will continue to do our best to locate Mr. Babar Suleman."

"We had yellow banners being prepared to welcome them back," said Azher Khan, a family friend. "We were very excited and we are still hopeful we will have Babar back, but to know that Haris has passed away, I can't even describe the pain and seeing the mother."

"He was loved by everyone, involved in school activities, a lot of supporters for his trip," added Hiba Suleman. "Teachers, people he would meet on the street - he just won them over."

She said the trip was a chance for her father and brother to spend more time together.

"This was a dream my dad had. It was one that my brother shared with him," she said. "It's something they were doing together and honestly, I couldn't wish for anything else. They were together and they were doing something they loved. They were spending time together."

"The relationship between the father and the son was just so beautiful," Khan said.

Haris' school district issued a statement shortly after news of the accident broke. It read in part:

"Plainfield Community School Corporation is deeply saddened to learn of the death of one of our students. Seventeen-year-old Haris Suleman completed his junior year in May and left Plainfield only days later in an attempt to fly around the world with his father. Haris's adventurous spirit and huge heart led him to reaching for this personal goal while also seeking to raise funds and awareness for schools supported by The Citizens Foundation, a non-profit organization headquartered in Karachi, Pakistan.

"The loss of Haris is a sobering tragedy for our school community. We extend our heartfelt sympathy to Haris's family. We will provide information about memorial services and funeral arrangements once available."

Rep. Todd Rokita released the following statement:

“I was saddened to hear of the heartbreaking loss experienced by the Suleman family.  On behalf of all 4th District Hoosiers, I offer our condolences as the family faces this tragedy.”

The father-son team took off June 17. Haris was trying to become the youngest person to fly around the world in a single-engine plane in 30 days. There was a celebration at the Greenwood Airport ahead of their departure. The high school senior was just 8 years old when he started learning how to fly from his dad, Babar Suleman.

Haris was the one in charge.

"I'm going to be in the left seat, and the left seat is usually the captain's. So I'll be taking care of the flying and all of that. So we'll split up the duties before we go. Who's going to be taking care of the radio, who's going to be talking to people, who's going to be flying at certain times. So what my dad is going to be doing is if I mess up, he'll let me know or slap me in the back of the head (laughs), whatever needs to be done to get this trip done," he told WTHR.

The plan was to fly 26,000 miles with stops in 25 cities, making the trip in 30 days. They knew they faced big challenges.

"We have to cross three oceans, we have to touch five continents, we have to go across some really rough terrain, and all of that requires a lot of sound decision making," explained his father.

"They knew it was dangerous, but like I said, Babar was so meticulous about preparation he did everything," Khan said Wednesday.

The Sulemans were using their trip to raise money for "The Citizens Foundation," a non-profit group that builds schools in Pakistan, where Babar grew up. In early July, the two touched down in Karachi, where they were greeted by dozens of people, including several schoolchildren. Their arrival made the local news, with Haris explaining why the fundraising effort was so important to him.

"I wouldn't be in the United States and I wouldn't be a pilot today without the education my father received and it's very rare, compared to other places, and I want Pakistani kids to have the same opportunity I had, 'cause I wouldn't be here without the education my father received and I love flying as a hobby," he said.

Haris kept a log of his journey and tweeted often. His last tweet was posted Tuesday, when he wrote Pago Pago was "without a doubt" one of the top five places he's been this summer.

About a week ago, he tweeted, "9 days away from home. I'll be flying every day starting tomorrow in order to get back! See you soon Indy :)"

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