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Search continues for missing man after son killed in South Pacific plane crash

Search continues Friday off coast of Pago Pago, American Samoa for Babar Suleman.
Search continues Friday off coast of Pago Pago, American Samoa for Babar Suleman.

Teams of U.S. Coast Guard crews and from local agencies were continuing the search Friday for an Indiana man who disappeared after the single-engine plane his teenage son was piloting crashed into the sea after taking off from an island airport in the South Pacific.

A Coast Guard spokeswoman says crews on Friday were expanding the area where they’re looking for Babar Suleman to cover an expanse of ocean of nearly 1,800 square nautical miles off the coast of Pago Pago, American Samoa.

The 58-year-old Suleman disappeared after the Beechcraft Bonanza piloted by his son -- 17-year-old Haris Suleman -- crashed after takeoff from Pago Pago International Airport Tuesday night.

“We are still actively looking for Mr. Suleman,” Petty Officer Melissa McKenzie, a spokeswoman at the Coast Guard’s 14th District headquarters in Honolulu,
said by phone Friday.

Haris Suleman was found dead by an American Samoa Marine Patrol crew shortly after Tuesday’s crash.

The father and son were on a journey around the globe, with Haris trying to set a record for the fastest circumnavigation of the world by the youngest pilot in a single-engine plane.

The quest came to an end late Tuesday when their plane went down about a mile from the idyllic island. McKenzie says search crews have recovered some debris, including sections of the fuselage, life jackets and components of the plane.

Friday’s expanded search comes after a Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules airplane flown in from Hawaii and local authorities searched more 275 nautical square miles on Wednesday, then more than 1,000 square nautical miles on Thursday.

Family member Hiba Suleman, the teen’s older sister, expressed her grief about the death of her brother and the disappearance of her father on a Facebook posting, writing late Thursday, “My baby brother is gone and my dad is missing.” She asked for prayers for her family.

“Please, pray for my dad, Babar Suleman, to find his way home, pray for mom to find peace, pray for my brother and I to learn to live without our baby brother,” the posting said.

Haris and his father had left their home state of Indiana on June 19, and were due to return this weekend. They were using the trip to raise money for the Citizens Foundation, a nonprofit that builds schools in Pakistan. Family members said they had raised more than $500,000.

A description of the trip on the donation website noted that 60 percent of the trip was “over large expanses of water that includes the Atlantic, the Pacific and lesser portions of the Indian Ocean as well.

The cause of the crash has not been determined.

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