Father-son bid to pilot aircraft around the world ends in tragedy
The pair from Indiana were looking to break the speed record for circumnavigating the globe with the youngest pilot at the helm of a private, single engine airplane.
Additionally, Babar Suleman and his son, Haris, were using their trip – which featured stops in Europe Africa, and Asia – to raise money for a nonprofit organization that develops schools in Pakistan. As of Wednesday, they had raised more than $500,000.
According to the Indianapolis Star, the tragedy occurred around 10:15 p.m. American Samoan time on Tuesday. The flight had only taken off about half an hour prior, and the crash sparked a six hour search by the US Coast Guard that recovered the body of 17-year-old Haris but not that of his father. That search is ongoing.
"We don’t really know what happened with the plane," Haris’ sister Hiba Suleman said at a press conference on Wednesday, the day the family was notified of the crash.
"He had asked me for dad’s credit card info, which apparently my dad wouldn’t give him. He wanted to book a hotel in Hawaii himself. He apparently didn’t like dad’s selection," she recalled with a chuckle, as quoted by ABC News.
At this point, there are two main questions surrounding the crash. First and foremost is the cause of the accident, which remains unknown. The National Transportation Safety Board is currently investigating the accident, and it’s unclear if bad weather played a role. The family said that when it last spoke with Babar, he was keeping an eye on the weather and wouldn’t leave if conditions weren’t clear.
The second question is why the pair chose to take off at night. The family dismissed the idea that the two were racing home to ensure they beat the world record, but no other explanations exist just yet.
Although Haris and his father still had stops in Hawaii, California, and Texas, the two were scheduled to arrive back in Indiana on Saturday.
Meanwhile, the family is still hoping authorities will find Babar safe and alive.
"It is a tragedy of immense proportions," family friend Azher Khan told the Indianapolis Star. "We are all still hopeful that we will have Babar come back."
Hiba Suleman told ABC that Haris planned to become an engineer like his father. Babar had been an experienced flyer dating back to 2007, while Haris earned his flying license in June after starting courses last year.
"Dad talked for years of going on this trip,” she said. “We believed in it. We knew there was a risk.”