World record bid ends in fatal crash

July 24, 2014

News organizations reported the death in an aircraft accident in American Samoa of Haris Suleman, a 17-year-old pilot from Plainfield, Indiana, who was attempting to set a world record as the youngest pilot in command to fly a single-engine airplane around the world. His father, Babar Suleman, was also aboard, and remained missing as search efforts continued July 24.

Reports said the Beech Bonanza piloted by the teenager crashed "under unknown circumstances" in the Pacific Ocean the night of July 22 shortly after takeoff from Pago Pago, American Samoa’s capital, on a flight to Honolulu. Hawaii. Winds were reported gusting to 40 miles per hour around the time of the crash, which occurred about a mile from shore.

The trip, long planned as a 30-day, 26,500-mile venture with stops in 15 countries, had been expected to return to Indiana around July 26.

The Pakistani-American father-and-son pilot team had dedicated the flight to a fundraising effort for The Citizens Foundation, a nonprofit organization that strives to provide education opportunities to underprivileged youth in Pakistan. Their aircraft was modified to accommodate an auxiliary fuel tank located in the cabin, according to an entry in the Sulemans’ blog "Around the World in 30 Days."

In an article about the flight that appeared July 1 on The Citizens Foundation’s website, Haris Suleman said he had earned his private pilot certificate about a month and a half earlier. He had set a fundraising goal for the flight of raising $1 million for the organization’s schools.

During the interview Haris identified overwater flying in a single-engine aircraft as the most risky aspect of an earth-rounding flight. He pointed out that about 60 percent of the flying would be "over huge expanses of water including the Atlantic, Pacific and parts of Indian Ocean."

The article said Babar Suleman, 58, is the younger brother of Rao Qamar Suleman, a former chief of air staff of the Pakistani Air Force.

The tragic end to the Sulemans’ flight came shortly after Massachusetts Institute of Technology student Matt Guthmiller, 19, successfully circumnavigated the globe solo in a Beech Bonanza. Guthmiller’s flight, completed July 14, broke a record set June 29, 2013, by Jack Wiegand in a Mooney Ovation2 GX, who was 21 at the time his flight ended.