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Search ongoing for young pilot’s father

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The search is ongoing for the father of a teen who died this week in a plane crash in the Pacific Ocean.

The father and son from Plainfield had left the Greenwood Municipal Airport in June to fly around the world together, with 17-year-old Haris Suleman as the pilot.

Their single-engine plane went down in the ocean after taking off Tuesday night from American Samoa, starting one of the last legs of their trip.

Haris’ body was found shortly after the plane crashed Tuesday night, and rescue workers were still searching for his father, Babar Suleman, 58, on Thursday.

The Sulemans were flying in the dark during what appeared to be a clear night without any unusual weather, Coast Guard public affairs officer Gene Maestes said. The ocean off the coast of American Samoa is warm, he said.

The U.S. Coast Guard has taken charge of the rescue operation, and workers were retrieving debris from the small aircraft as they found it Wednesday and Thursday.

“We’re primarily trying to locate Mr. Suleman. That is still our mission. It’s still a search and rescue mission,” Maestes said.

Searchers have recovered sections of the plane’s fuselage and some inside parts of the aircraft, according to a news release from the Coast Guard. Workers searched about 275 nautical miles Wednesday and planned to search 1,027 nautical miles Thursday, the release said.

The sea was rising and the wind was picking up Thursday, which would make the search on the water more difficult, Maestes said.

The Coast Guard was dropping beacons in the ocean to check current directions, water temperatures and how big the waves are to keep track of where plane debris could be drifting. Those beacons are helping narrow the search, he said.

The Coast Guard in Hawaii joined the search Wednesday, sending a C-130 aircraft at 3:30 a.m. After an approximately nine-hour flight, rescuers searched the area by air for three hours and reported any plane debris they saw. A Coast Guard boat and a commercial tugboat also were used in the search.

The first responders came from American Samoa the night of the crash. Officials at the Samoan airport saw the plane go down Tuesday night, and the American Samoan Marine Patrol promptly sent boats to search for Haris and Babar Suleman. The U.S. National Park Service, stationed at American Samoa, also sent a boat. They found Haris’ body near where the single-engine aircraft crashed off the coast.

The only time rescuers heard there was a problem with the Sulemans was when a device inside their plane sent an emergency alert Tuesday night to a search and rescue coordination center in New Zealand, which contacted the Coast Guard.

Babar and Haris Suleman were flying around the world to fulfill a lifelong dream of Babar’s and to raise funds for Seeds of Learning, an organization that builds schools in Pakistan.

“We pray that Babar is found,” organization president Azher Khan said.

Khan’s children grew up with the Suleman children, and the families have been friends for years, he said.

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