INDIANAPOLIS — A member of the ground crew at an airport in American Samoa warned the father of a teenage pilot from Indiana that winds had been gusty and strong all day and evening before their plane crashed into the Pacific Ocean, federal investigators say.
Haris Suleman, a 17-year-old from the central Indiana town of Plainfield, was killed July 22 when the plane crashed shortly after takeoff from the airport in Pago Pago as it headed for Honolulu, Hawaii. Suleman was trying to set the record for the fastest circumnavigation around the world in a single-engine airplane with the youngest pilot in command. His father, 58-year-old Babar Suleman, was the co-pilot.
A preliminary report issued Tuesday by the National Transportation Safety Board said Babar Suleman told the unidentified ground crewman during preflight checks the weather seemed fine. That’s when the crewman told him about the winds.
The crewman said as the plane took off the wind was “very strong” and the aircraft moved up and down and side to side. He said it banked to the right toward the ocean. The report said the airplane kept getting lower over the next few seconds, then disappeared.
The crewman said he did not see the plane go into the ocean and didn’t see an explosion. He said he only saw the lights getting lower and lower.
The crewman said he contacted the airport duty supervisor to determine if there had been any contact with the airplane. The supervisor responded that he was waiting for a call from the pilot, and the crewman said he thought it went into the ocean.
Another witness who was a couple of miles away sitting on a seawall said he saw the plane takeoff and reported it wasn’t gaining altitude. He stated that a few seconds after takeoff, the airplane suddenly went nose down into the water.
Haris Suleman’s body was recovered shortly after the crash. The father remains missing.
Their journey was a fundraiser to help build schools in Babar Suleman’s native Pakistan.