A Pakistani-American teenager who was aiming to become the youngest pilot to circumnavigate the globe has died alongside his co-pilot father after their plane crashed into the Pacific Ocean.
Haris Suleman, 17, and his 58-year-old father Babar had taken off from American Samoa en route to the Hawaiian island of Honolulu on the penultimate leg of their round-the-world trip when their Hawker Beechcraft turbo-prop aircraft crashed.
US rescuers have recovered Haris’ body and are still said to be searching for his father’s remains.
The Suleman’s had left their home state of Indiana and were due to arrive back on Sunday. The duo had been raising money for the s Citizen’s Foundation, a charity that builds schools for Pakistan’s s poorest children.
Haris had been active on Social Media networks, documenting the entire journey.
Just before they left the island of Pago Pago in American Samoa, Haris tweeted: ‘Pago Pago is without a doubt [in the] top 5 places I’ve been this summer’.
As plans for welcome-home celebrations shifted to mourning, family and friends defended the father-son team and their mission, saying they had known the dangers when they set out to break a record while raising money.
Writing in the Huffington Post on July 15, Haris had said: “Why does any explorer undertake the necessary risks in order to accomplish their dream? Because that person has a drive, they have a focus, and they have a need to explore that dream.”
A family friend told a news conference in Indiana on Wednesday: “It was an absolutely noble cause that they took this journey on, and they knew the dangers.”
Babar Suleman had long dreamed of flying around the world. He and his son decided to make the adventure a fundraiser for the Citizens Foundation whilst also hoping to set the record for the fastest circumnavigation around the world in a single-engine airplane with the youngest pilot in command to do so.
While their arrival back home had been five days behind schedule, Haris would have laid claim to the second record.
The duo planned the trip carefully. They took classes in how to survive an ocean landing and packed a life raft with food and other supplies in case they had to bail out over water.
They calculated their fuel needs and plotted their course, arranging stops in Europe, Africa, Asia and the South Pacific, before setting out.
However, several commentators in the US have questioned the wisdom of putting a 17-year-old in the cockpit on such an arduous journey.
Haris sister Hiba defended her father’s decision, saying: “With a trip like this, there’s always a risk, and they did prepare for that risk,” Haris sister Hiba said.
“You can plan all you want, but sometimes things just don’t happen the way you planned.”
Babar Suleman had flown for more than a decade and had experience with emergency landings.
In 2008, he landed his plane on an Indianapolis highway after its single engine died.
His son had flown with him since the age of 8 and received his pilot’s license and instrument rating in June.
He emphasized preparations with his son, both before and during the journey.
“Hope is never a good plan,” the elder Suleman told NBC News before setting off. “We have to plan for all kinds of eventualities.”
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will begin an investigation into what caused the Suleman’s plane to crash.