This Time, The Kid “Living His (Parent’s) Dream” Is Dead. Still Inspired?


Pointing out the breach of ethics when parents endanger children by allowing, encouraging, pushing, or forcing them to risk their lives before they are old enough to comprehend what risking their life means has been a periodic theme on Ethics Alarms. There was 16-year old Abby Sunderland, who had to be rescued from an attempt to become the youngest person to sail around the world solo. Paul Romero sent his son Jordan, 13, out to be the youngest to climb Mount Everest. In April of this year, the Coast Guard had to rescue the sick one-year-old of Eric and Charlotte Kaufman, who brought the baby and their three-year old along as they tried to circumnavigate the globe in their yacht. (Never mind, they all had life jackets.). Less likely to be fatal but epic in its length was the ordeal “the Biking Vogels” put their twin sons through, as they were forced to live on bicycles for years while their parents lived out their low-tech “Easy Rider” fantasies, peddling across America.

As was bound to happen, another set of parents in this unethical club  have met with tragedy of their own engineering. Haris Suleman and his father, Babar Suleman, from Plainfield, Indiana, were attempting to fly around the world with the newly licensed  teen piloting their single-engine aircraft. The journey, to be completed in 30 days, would have set a record. Gotta set those records!  The Biking Vogels were determined to set a record too.

As the plane piloted by a 17-year-old novice pilot took off from an airport in Pago Pago in American Samoa, it suddenly lost power and crashed into the water. The boy is dead; the father’s body has yet to be found.

Now the story is being framed by the news media as a tear-jerking human interest story. The boy died doing what he loved! The stunt was for charity—it was for such a noble cause! “It was an absolutely noble cause that they took this journey on, and they knew the dangers,” a family friend said during a news conference in Plainfield. Wrong. No 17-year-old knows the risks of anything: that’s why it’s the job of responsible parents to protect them from their own bad judgment and sense of invincibility. Whether children fully understand it or not, they trust their parents to guide them away from harm, not into it. That is, unless they have parents who see their children as a vicarious or direct way to realize their own ambitions. We are told that Daddy Suleman “had long dreamed of flying around the world” and that “he and his son decided to make the adventure a fundraiser for the Citizens Foundation, which has built 1,000 schools in Pakistan.” Right. His son decided that. All by himself. Sure.

The father decided to realize his dream by endangering his son, and that’s a the sad and unpleasant truth. Nobody would have paid any attention to a 58-year-old pilot flying around the globe: his son’s participation was essential to Babar Sulemon’s dream.  What choice did the son have? As in all the other cases above, not much. Young Sulemon wasn’t as lucky as the rest, which doesn’t mean his father was more reckless than the other parents. They all engage in child endangerment, while the news media, neighbors and fatuous relatives cheer them on.


Sources: ABC, Daily News

Graphic: Daily News

25 thoughts on “This Time, The Kid “Living His (Parent’s) Dream” Is Dead. Still Inspired?

  1. 17 year Olds can enlist in the military and go to boot camp. I have no issue with a 17 year old making this decision. Did his dad certify him as a pilot or a unrelated professional? If he was deemed capable then it is unfortunate not unethical.

    • 17-year-olds enlist rarely, and even they understand that they risk being shot at. A 17 year old is not deemed legally capable of making life and death decisions, and again, it’s the parents’ job to keep him from making them–not push him into them, which is what obviously happened here. This was reckless and stupid, and a pointless waste of a young man’s life. Indefensible. A kid is “capable” of many things that a parent should stop him from doing. You offered a string of rationalizations, as far as I can see.
      By the way, anyone risking his or her life to set a stupid record is irresponsible and foolish. Letting/encouraging your child to do it? Criminal.

          • Yes they must have parental consent, it doesn’t change that 17 year olds can and often do make the decision to join the military. Is that decision unethical? 17 year olds can get private pilot licences, should they not be allowed? Car licencing for 16 year olds? They can’t understand the risks can they? Kids playing sports? swimming? riding bikes? all have risks as does flying. This could have easily occurred at his local strip so it really doesn’t matter much if it happened at Pago Pago or Indiana. I think a father son trip around the world is awesome, unlike the other incidents I think this one is ethical across the board. I think a 17 year old who has gone through the training to become a pilot whose father has been a pilot for many years and had his own emergencies does understand the risks, as a 17 year old joining the Military goes through the training and learns how to identify and reduce the risks. Just because his father always wanted to make this trip does not equate to the son being force into it, I know plenty of 17 year olds who would love this opportunity. Your children don’t share any of the passions you have?

            As for the record so what? Breaking the record in this instance didn’t involve anymore risk then flying involves in the first place, so unless you are saying that 17 year olds should not be allowed to fly left seat then I hardly see that as an ethical consideration as it pertains to risk.

            This was a father who was an experience pilot, flying right seat for his son who was a licensed pilot in an aircraft that could make the trip with enough ceiling and reserve for the flight plan they made. Unless more comes out that identifies deviations from safe practices then I see nothing wrong with them making this trip.

            • Ridiculous apples and oranges arguments! This is endurance flying, involving bad air strips, night landings, flying while exhausted and uncomfortable, and inevitable bad weather. The kid was not an experienced flyer, and when things happen fast, and they do in the air, the coach along for the ride can’t do much. The father wanted this adventure, and manipulated his child into facilitating it for him…that’s pretty clear from the reports and interviews. And it’s pointless danger, needless peril. Let’s see, Steve, how dangerous is a round the world flight attempt for a 17 year old? The fatality rate appears to be 100%, by my calculations. Tell me, will the next father who persuades a teenager to try this be similarly blameless, in your view? And the next, if he goes down too?

              • “how dangerous is a round the world flight attempt for a 17 year old? The fatality rate appears to be 100%, by my calculations.”

                So, if he had succeeded then the fatality rate would be 0% and so therefore completely safe?

                I suggest that added to the list of “Unethical Rationalizations and Misconceptions” should be the improper use of statistics.

                • I didn’t say it was more dangerous because of that statistic, did I? I simply stated it, and accurately. And I don’t think that a father taking into consideration that the only time something had been attempted, the child in question died, is inappropriate or irrational.

                  Taking the flight is madness whether an earlier example was fatal or not. But the fact that it was fatal once should be a) shared with the child and b) a wake up call.

                  • I agree that the flight was a bad idea but when you added the line about the failure rate being 100% using the statistical sample of only one then that is a bad use of statistics.

                    • That presumes that it was a “use of statistics.” Stating a statistic isn’t “using” it. If I used it to “prove” that the act was 100% deadly, that was a bad use. Pointing out that the current fatality rate for that act is 100% means no more nd no less than “it’s dangerous, and potentially fatal.” Which it is. The context was responding to Stephen’s minimizing the risks by comparing it to every day activities for teens, or normal flying. Kids don’t do this every day, in fact, they never did it before, and the first one who did, died as a result. Is it just appending the 100% to that that bugs you?

              • It appears you know nothing about this flight or the pilots. Haris was experienced…he had been flying for many years, maybe not as a qualified pilot but on a SPL. The fact that he did a 100 hour IR rating and check ride makes him more qualified for this flight than your average weekend flyer who may do 20 hours a year.
                Who mentioned bad airstrips? See, you have no idea at all…every airport except one that they went to ws an international airport with all the services and facilities you would expect if you were arriving there on a commercial airliner flight.
                The exception was October Airport in Egypt which has one of the longest tarmac runways in Egypt, and is home to acedemy that trains Egyptair pilots, so a fully functioning instrument airport.
                Babar did have a full set of controls, so he wasnt along for the ride.
                The fact that Haris was PIC may make your statistics seem right, but I know of many circumnavigations with youngsters on board as crew or passengers that are not included in your statistics as they were not fatal. A circumnavigation is nothing but a series of daily flights. Or in their case, flight with breaks in between.
                They ahd been at Pago for 2 full days so were fully rested. So where do you get your exhaustion ‘fact’?
                What a shame that the internet allowed people like you to be able to make unconfirmed comments like this when the decent people involved with flight are in shock and have to read the sick ramblings appearing everywhere by naysayers and so called experts…not…

                • I said the flight placed a 17 year old in peril. It obviously did. I didn’t speculate on why the eventual accident occurred, and it doesn’t matter. The “record” required the child to stay in control of the plane even if circumstances required the more experienced pilot to take over—what sense does that make? And if there was one sub-standard airstrip, then there were substandard airstrips.

                  You can accuse, sputter, insult and spin all you like. A child who had his whole life before him is dead, and if he had responsible parents, he would be alive today.

          • And, as I understand it, barring an early graduation for HS, the 17 year old enlistments inevitably are in guard / reserve positions and the 17 y.o. Goes to basic training between his junior and senior years, goes back to high school to finish (attending weekend drills as part of a unit) then after graduating returns for advanced training.

  2. I suspect some of the discussion is running aground here because the teen was seventeen, that cusp year when they are almost adult and usually trying out or at least considering their adult freedoms. Parties, driving, and occasionally Alaskan piloting are part of that stage. If he was fifteen, twelve, or toddlers of the other cases it would make a better exemplar as those are much more clearly too young to make informed and adult judgment. There the adults are much more clearly using their children for fame to make themselves feel more special, like the terrible exploitation on the ABC late night.

  3. A seventeen year old soldier is intensively trained for a dangerous profession. He has any number of “father figures” (sergeants!) to guide him. He is also doing what he does for a purpose far more important than setting some lousy record.

  4. How come you have information the people involved with this tragedy (including myself) don’t? No one knows if the aircraft lost power and your comments are sick and show a disturbed mind. I personally worked with Babar and Haris on planning this flight since late last summer and as their flight Support team manager was in daily contact with the pilots. I also met them and spent a fantastic 3 days with them as the reached my area of the world. They were both very professional in their outlook to flying, their planning was the most precise and dedicated I had even seen and I have seen many of these plans that left a lot to be desired, usually from more ‘experienced’ pilots. Whatever the cause was for the aircraft going into the sea just after take off, it is wrong for you to relate facts that are untrue, just to make your words sound more credible. I can possitively tell you that Haris was not co-erced into this flight, it was his dream too and Babar was all too aware of the possible consequences and always relied on advice from reliable sources as to whether to continue or not. He departed at night because of the need to be near their divert airport in Kiribati during daylight hours, it not having lighting, and I know for a fact that the hours spent before departure were all about fuel – to – range calculations and weight calculations. Nothing was gung ho about this…it was a flight to raise awareness, funds and also to visit the places where the money already raised had built schools. Maybe if you got off your backside and did something worthwhile for a change you too could make a dirfference to someone’s life…instead of decrying and spreading your own jealous hatred.

    • “Babar was all too aware of the possible consequences”-–well, that settles it, doesn’t it? A father is all too aware that the possible consequences of a completely unnecessary “adventure” is the death of his kid, and yet encourages the child to do it anyway. I don’t have to be a pilot; I’m a father. If there is an activity that my son wants to engage in that I am “too aware” may end with him on a slab, I prohibit it, and don’t participate in it….as any responsible parent should, and does.

      No, I’m not “jealous” that my son is still alive at 19, and his will never reach that stage in life, or any other. The sickness is parents influencing and encouraging their children to take risks they are too young to appreciate. And I’ve affected plenty of lives positively so far in my life, and plan on doing more…none of which requires imperilling my son, or anyone else.

      • I did not comment to debate with you…you have already taken my words out of context and guess what…I never said there was one substandard airfield..I said there only one that was not an international airport but was still as good as. You will twist and turn words all the time and that is why I know not to argue with you. You have a one way ticket to ‘having the last word’ but the route you take is a dishonest one and speculating without facts or creating facts to suit your views…how sad your life must be.

        • I didn’t twist your words in any way. I quoted you exactly, and correctly extrapolated from the clear implication of what you wrote. If you did not come to debate, then you cannot back up your position. The internal contradictions in both comments show you to be an advocate regardless of facts, whereas I am not: I have no agenda here, other than to try to discourage other parents from getting their children killed in the spirit of adventure.

          Quiz: “Spot the contradiction!” “the route you take is a dishonest one and speculating without facts or creating facts to suit your views…how sad your life must be.”

          I haven’t speculated in any way regarding the issue at hand. A child is dead, and shouldn’t be.

  5. Being a parent is a hard job at times.
    My nephew has an arm like a rocket launcher and my brother is really wrestling with the decision to allow him to play football.
    He’s 13 and there is already a choice to be made that could effect him for the rest of his life.

  6. Regarding enlisting in the military, I think no one should be allowed to enlist until they’re 21. (The military certainly should not be able to even consider accepting anyone under 18 with or without parental consent.) The downside for the military is that they won’t get the high numbers of naive canon fodder they’re used to. The upside is that they’ll get slightly more mature canon fodder who’ve had at least a few years in the real world and may have come to appreciate that they’re not immortal. That appreciation also might help some of them to save their own lives-and lives of others-on the battlefield.

    Regarding this tragedy, it speaks for itself. More proof that the physical ability to procreate in no way guarantees you’re fit to be a parent.

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