American Samoans Respond To Private Plane Crash

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Witness regrets not being able to help, sends condolences

By Joyetter Feagaimaalii-Luamanu

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, July 24, 2014) – American Samoa was the headquarters yesterday for the search for debris from a single engine Beechcraft, carrying a man and his 17-year-old son that crashed around 9:50pm Wednesday night, a mile out from the Pago Pago International Airport.

The victims have been identified as Babar Suleman and his 17-year-old son Haris, who took off last month on a world-spanning journey to raise money for charity. They’d planned to spend 30 days flying to cities around the world, including London and Istanbul.

As first reported by Samoa News online, the body of Haris was found floating while still strapped to his seat and was brought to shore by Marine Patrol officers led by Captain Tulele Laolagi, who is part of the search and rescue team that was still out scouring the ocean yesterday afternoon for the older Suleman.

More than five boats have been assisting with the search along with divers from the DMWR and National Park. An HC130 Hercules airplane from Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point, Hawai’i arrived to join the search yesterday and was seen circling just off the shore south of Tutuila Wednesday morning.

[PIR editor’s note: The Samoa News reported that ‘The U.S. Coast Guard says some of the debris from the single-engine plane which crashed Tuesday night in the waters off American Samoa’s main island of Tutuila, has been located and collected by territorial officials.’]

FAMILY

The Suleman family is devastated with the tragic news and Hiba Suleman spoke from Indiana to Samoa News about the loss of her father and brother. She also confirmed to Samoa News that the family is trying to get on the next plane to American Samoa. Fighting back her emotions, she confirmed to Samoa News, "That is my brother and my father."

EYE WITNESS WHO CONTACTED 911

Bert Thompson, of Matu’u witnessed the plane crash into the water and contacted 911 for assistance. In an interview with Samoa News, Thompson said, "I had just finished dinner and I came out to feel the breeze and enjoy the fresh air, which turned horrible as I witnessed the plane crashing into the water. I was so concerned for these people and wishing that I had a boat, I would go out to help.

"I called 911 and reported the incident… and I had to call several times to follow up if the Marine Patrol was on their way to help those people on the plane. At the time I didn’t know how many people were on that plane.

"I waited for over an hour and then I saw lights of a boat heading to the area where the plane crashed and finally I had some peace, and I was so worried and concerned about what was going on out at sea," he told Samoa News.

Thompson said this was first time in his life he had ever experienced looking at an incident as horrific and knowing he could not reach out to help. He relayed his deepest condolences to the family for their loss.

THE SEARCH AND RECOVERY

In the meantime, the Marine Patrol officers who were sent to sea just after 10pm last night with a search and rescue team came back with the first body around 1:15 am at the wharf before the marine officers went back to search for a second body.

Close to 10 EMS technicians were at the wharf in Fagatogo waiting for the arrival of the body on the marine patrol boat and it appeared the victim had injuries on his face and body. Laolagi said the Marine Patrol and other government vessels were assisted in the search by the Tool Shop owner Peter Crispin, who along with his colleague Andy took several police officers on his fishing boat.

Laolagi said the the EPIRB was found not far from where the body was located. He explained that the EPIRB or Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon is a tracking device that aids in the detection and location of boats, aircraft and people in distress.

The Department of Public Safety’s Marine Patrol officers suspended their search for the second body about 4am yesterday morning and resumed again after dawn, continuing throughout the entire day with assistance from local boats.

GOVERNMENT BRIEFING

Director of Homeland Security, Utuali’i Iuniasolua Savusa told Lt. Governor Lemanu Peleti Mauga yesterday that he had contacted the family and spoken with Hiba Suleman who stated that she will be arriving with her mother this Friday with hopes to collect the remains of her brother and father and return back to Indiana on Monday’s flight.

However, Federal Aviation Administration, Safety Officer Edwin Lee pointed out during the briefing, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will be conducting a separate investigation and they will need the remains of the men on board along with the debris collected from the site for the investigation.

He also pointed out that an autopsy will be necessary and it is unclear how long it will take to complete the investigation.

The Lt. Governor, who is the acting governor, told his staff who were present at the briefing — to make sure the government assists the family administratively during their stay in the territory to assure that it’s a smooth process.

Questions as to why the Beechcraft went down have not been answered to date, as the investigation by the FAA is ongoing.

Apparently the plane had just taken off from the Pago Pago International Airport when it crashed, said Airport Police.

Wreckage from the aircraft, pieces and parts were retrieved during a search and rescue sweep of the vicinity, according to a statement issued by Department of Homeland Security, following a briefing at 1pm at the ASDHS/TEMCO conference room with Lt. Governor Lemanu and directors along with ASDHS, the Attorney General, DPS Commissioner and Deputy Port Director.

According to the statement the search and rescue operations are ongoing. "Wreckage from the aircraft, pieces and parts were retrieved during a sweep of the vicinity."

US Coast Guard C-130 aircraft, DPS Marine Patrol and Port Administration vessels with EMS response teams will be continuing their operation to recover the second crew member, and retrieve the aircraft's black box says the statement.

It also points out that ASDHS/TEMCO has been in constant contact with the family in the US to provide alternate airline travel information and assistance into American Samoa due to full flights into the Territory. Furthermore, the American Red Cross, American Samoa Branch has contacted ASDHS/TEMCO to offer their assistance and support of the family.

Late yesterday afternoon, under overcaste skyies, the search was called off for the day as the weather kicked up and visibility diminished.

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