LOS ANGELES/ KARACHI: “I’m probably flying right now,” is what 17-year-old Pakistani-American Haris Suleman’s twitter bio states. His attempt to become the youngest pilot to fly round the world in 30 days, however, was cut short, when his plane crashed in the Pacific Ocean late on Wednesday, killing him and his father – just four days before the end of his trip.
Haris and his father, Baber Suleman, also a pilot, had flown out of Pago Pago, in American Samoa, and after stopping in Hawaii and San Francisco, were meant to return to Indianapolis, where they lived.
Haris' sister Hiba Suleman posted the following message on her Facebook account last night, confirming the tragic news:
Before the news breaks, I'd like to thank everyone for their support of my father and brother throughout this trip, as well as for the support given to my mom, brother and myself as we waited for their safe return.
Haris and my dad's plane went down upon take off in American Samoa. Haris has been found- he did not make it. My father has not yet been found. Please pray that my dad is found alive and well. Also, hug your siblings and parents- tell them you love them, a hundred time. A thousand times. It will never feel like it's been said quite often enough.
The father and son duo flew to Greenland, Cairo, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and finally to the islands of American Samoa, their experiences documented via the Internet. While his father maintained a blog, Haris regularly updated his twitter accounts with pictures from his trip – from selfies with camels in Cairo to sunsets in Bali. On July 22 he tweeted: “I miss Pakistan already. I can’t wait to go back.”
I miss Pakistan already. I can't wait to go back.— Ur Captain Speakin' (@HarisPls) July 22, 2014
I'm in quite a tough situation. Lord just get me to Hawaii, please.— Ur Captain Speakin' (@HarisPls) July 20, 2014
It's unfortunate that I'll be leaving this island tonight (tomorrow morning for those in the US).… http://t.co/qWe8kIrhbg— Ur Captain Speakin' (@HarisPls) July 22, 2014
The news of their death shocked many in Pakistan, which was one of their destinations a few weeks ago on July 1.
President Mamnoon Hussain and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif expressed deep grief and shock over the death of Haris and his father and extended their condolences to the bereaved family.
There was an outpour of tributes and prayers for the departed souls on social media, such as the ones below:
Haris and his father received a celebrities’ welcome in Karachi by a crowd of supporters, family members and students of The Citizens Foundation (TCF) – the charity Haris was trying to raise money for. Before deciding to launch this project, Haris was an active volunteer at The Citizens Foundation (TCF) local chapters in the US. So far, the duo had reportedly collected around $0.6 million.
In an interview published in June this year, Babar Suleman spoke of the other purpose of the trip: to support education for the underprivileged children in Pakistan. In a message for these children, he said: “Sitaaron se aagay jahan aur bhi hain.”
“We just found out two-and-a-half hours ago, we are devastated,” said Daniel Moorani, director of the American branch of TCF, paying tribute to the teen as "a magnificent young man." Moorani said the boy's body has been recovered, but that authorities were still searching for his father. "They were flying from Samoa to Fiji, they just had left to go to Hawaii and the (San Francisco) Bay Area before returning to Indianapolis," Moorani said.
They left Indianapolis in their Beech A36 Bonanza on June 19 and aimed to return on July 26, a website following their progress said. However, a bout of food poisoning extended Haris’ trip.
The young pilot wasn’t able to cross the finish line but he managed to do and inspire a lot more than your average 17-year-old. The father and son’s trip, which was meant to end in cheers, ended instead in tragedy but this is not to say the journey wasn’t a triumph. Here’s hoping that, in Iqbal’s words, as Babar Suleman quoted, ‘sitaaron se aagay jahan aur bhi hain.’