A central Indiana teenager who died when his plane crashed in the Pacific Ocean during an around-the-world flight was laid to rest Thursday following a funeral service where he was remembered as a witty young man whose ambitious journey inspired others to pursue their dreams.
More than 800 mourners filled the Islamic Center of North America in the Indianapolis suburb of Plainfield for a funeral service and prayers for Haris Suleman, a 17-year-old who was due to enter his senior year at Plainfield High School next week.
He died July 22 when the single-engine plane he was piloting crashed into the ocean about a mile off the coast of American Samoa shortly after takeoff on a planned flight to Honolulu. Haris Suleman’s body was recovered shortly after the crash, but his father and co-pilot, 58-year-old Babar Suleman, remains missing.
Haris Suleman and his father had trained for their 30-day mission in Greenwood and departed the Greenwood airport in June after a festival conducted in their honor.
The Indiana teen, who made it about three-quarters of the way around the globe, had hoped to set the record for the fastest circumnavigation of the globe in a single-engine airplane with the youngest pilot in command.
But his trek was also a fundraiser for a group that helps build schools in his father’s native Pakistan.
Haris Suleman’s death, while raising money to bring education to impoverished Pakistani children, represents the ultimate fulfillment of Islam’s call for believers to help those less-fortunate, Sayyid M. Syeed, national director of the Islamic Society of North America’s Office of Interfaith and Community Alliances, told mourners.
Syeed said Muslims need to act to fight injustice in the world “and be ready to give whatever price it needs.”
“And that price may be our lives. And that’s what Haris actually attained, which is why we need to be proud, we need to celebrate that he was raised by a father who believed in these things,” he said during the service at the center’s mosque.
Suleman family friend Azher Khan, who also spoke during Thursday’s service, said the fundraising effort started by Haris Suleman and his father has now collected more than $1 million — enough to build about six schools.
The U.S. Coast Guard called off its search for Babar Suleman last week, but Khan said American Samoa officials have pledged to continue searching for him, and Suleman family members will travel next week to the group of South Pacific islands about halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii to assist in that effort.
Following Thursday’s service, Haris Suleman was buried at Maple Hill Cemetery in Plainfield, located about 15 miles southwest of Indianapolis.
Thursday’s mourners included dozens of Haris Suleman’s classmates, including 18-year-old Kaleb Preston, who graduated in May but played high school soccer with Suleman.
He recalled Haris Suleman as a “hilarious, one-of-a-kind” person with a quick wit, who often left his fellow soccer players in stitches during their bus rides to and from matches.
Preston said Suleman’s quest to fly around-the-world was a source of motivation to him and other classmates, inspiring them to ponder how serious they were about pursuing their own dreams.
“He was a one-of-a-kind for sure. I’ve never met anyone like Haris,” Preston said. “Everyone was excited for him because he wanted to do it. And we were like, ‘Yeah, go do it!’ No one expected this to happen.”
Rebecca Mikeworth, 17, said that when Haris began his trek June 19 with his father — an engineer and a pilot — at his side, many of her classmates and teachers were worried about his safety during the long journey even though they were also excited about his quest.
“He was so nice and really, really funny. He was just a great guy,” Mikeworth said, teary-eyed.