Prince Sultan bin Salman praises former Arab News reporter Roger Harrison
In sincere tribute to former Arab News employee Roger Harrison, who died on the Spanish island of Mallorca at the age of 75,
Prince Sultan bin Salman, the first Arab and Muslim astronaut, said that the journalist's love for Saudi Arabia and its people was clear in everything he did.
"He wasn't just doing these things for his job with Arab News, but because he was enjoying them," he said.
In an exclusive interview, Prince Sultan noted that he was head of the Saudi Tourism Authority when he first met Harrison, a prominent Arab News reporter from 2001 until 2013.
"Arab News was publishing some great articles about Saudi Arabia," he said. “I think I noticed his name and then we got in touch with him. It became a true friendship because his feelings were overwhelming.
"We also ended up traveling together in different parts of the country. We invited him to come to our farm for various conferences. Roger was often present when we had guests, formal or informal."
“Then in 2006, Bandar bin Khalid Al-Faisal came up with the idea to do, for the first time ever, an air tour of Saudi Arabia using a glider.”
Notably, Harrison's work was widely praised in his seminal 2014 book, Wings Over Arabia,
It is a photographic record of a three-man glider mission that flew over many wonderful regions rarely seen in the kingdom. Prince Sultan explained how the adventure began and how Harrison became a part of it.
"I got my paragliding license in 1986 in Hawaii, but I didn't fly much after that," he said. "
Bender and I started paragliding in the 2000s. We met John Bale who was an English kitesurfing instructor and joined us when we started paragliding in the Alps.
Then we developed the idea of coming to Saudi Arabia and paragliding in the Kingdom. We brought in the team that worked on the documentary series. Then I brought in Roger as part of the tourism committee to document the mission and he totally threw himself into it.”
The prince said Roger was fully involved in the Wings Over Arabia planning team.
"It was a great team and I am very sorry to say that three of them are now dead," he said. Ahmed Al-Zahrani was our mechanic at the Aviation Club. Unfortunately he died in an accident. He was a great guy and you can see it in the video. I'm actually still looking for his two sons and his family.
“The other was Captain Zakaria from Sri Lanka. He passed away a few months ago after he retired. He has been with me for years and has flown a Twin Otter, which you can see in the movie and also in the book.
We have been given by Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz the twin qada'a, although it was originally given to King Fahd.
It's a great plane but it's very slow so we raised the door. It was then used by the photography team, the American team made up of other photographers and cinematographers for the documentary."
Prince Sultan said he brought Harrison and Bali to the team, while Prince Bandar assembled the documentary crew.
“John came to fly with us, and in fact, he had much more experience than we had,” he said. “I was actually the most experienced pilot in the group because I started flying in 1976 and was in the Royal Saudi Air Force.
I probably would have spent 10,000 hours jet-setting but had the least experience flying in the group.
“John had the most, and of course there was Bender who had some experience with paragliding and was a great pilot too. We flew all over the kingdom and planned the trip. Roger’s role was to shoot and write articles.”
Prince Sultan said Harrison was a vital part of the team that flew the Twin Otter.
"He always told me he always felt ill on the plane but he kept flying, even though the door was open and it was hanging by a little belt," said the prince. “We toured Saudi Arabia in seven or eight days
“Roger of course posted a number of things and we worked together on different ideas, among them Saudi Colors. This was an initiative I supported within the Tourism Authority and sponsored an annual event for photography and photographers.
We've sent Saudi and other photographers out of the country, and we've basically had an awards program that has grown into making films and videos.
Eventually, the program included even entrants and I hope it continues. It showcased great talent not only to Saudis but from expats as well.”
Speaking about his passion for aviation, Prince Sultan said: “It is all about trying to live life fully.
I do a lot of hard work, a lot of charitable work, a lot of government work, a lot of ministerial work. After all, I live here.
“There are a lot of people who tell me that they have not seen me in any building because most of my life is outside. In my childhood, the Riad was much smaller, and my brothers and I enjoyed horse riding in the desert.
The desert was not as far away as it is now. It was nothing but a sand dune and there was a small stable and a small villa that my father allowed us to use.”