PLAINFIELD, Ind. - 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.
Family and friends had been planning a welcome home party for the pair. They were expected to land in the U.S. on Saturday.
The father-son team crashed on the last leg of their 25,500-mile trip. Family members said they had prepared with survival training and the trip had been months in the making.
Babar and Haris had been using a satellite communicator to map their progress -- a way for friends and family to follow along. Notes showed the last communication from the father and son came in a little before 5 a.m. Eastern Standard Time when the plane was on the runway at Pago Pago International Airport.
Haris’ sister, Hiba Suleman, 26, was attending a conference in Washington, D.C. when she received a text message from her mother.
"I called her, and she said, 'Don't panic, but the plane went down and they found Haris.' Nothing was going through my mind. I just couldn't believe it," Suleman said.
She said she talked to her father and brother by phone on Tuesday. She said her dad didn’t know how long he’d be in American Samoa because of the weather. The pair took off later that night around 9:50 local time.
"If there was any indication weather wasn't good, he would stay an extra day," Suleman said.
Haris flew the entire trip. He received his pilot’s license in June, but his father had been flying for 7 years.
Photos and blog posts showed evidence of a father and son on the trip of a lifetime.
The pair’s last stop turned out to be one of their favorites. Another was Egypt where they had the chance to ride camels and see the Great Pyramid.
"Growing up my dad wasn't around as much for him as he was for me. So this was a good opportunity for them to do something they loved. They both loved to fly, they wanted to travel. They got to see the world," Suleman said.
Suleman said her older brother was trying to fly to American Samoa to bring back Haris' remains. Family and friends were holding out hope and praying that Babar was found alive.
"We're hoping my father is alive and well, and we're going to keep praying until we have a definitive answer," Suleman said.
Haris was preparing to enter his senior year at Plainfield High School. His sister said he planned to take the SAT and then apply for college engineering programs to follow in his father’s footsteps.
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