Payson Pilot Flew For The Bin Laden Family

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Among Payson's newest residents is retired aviator Paul Rakisits, who made his home in various countries of the world, including Saudi Arabia where he spent 18 years. A native of La Crescenta, Calif., Rakisits' sojourn in Saudi Arabia began in the early 1960s when he began flying for Saudi Arabia Airlines.

"In between flying for them," Rakisits said, "I was asked to fly for the royal family -- King Faisal, who was assassinated by his nephew (in 1975)."

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Paul Rakisits at the controls of a Gulf Stream V2004.

Of his time living among Arabs, Rakisits said Americans have a misconception of people from the Middle East. "There are rotten apples in every barrel. Osama Bin Laden was the rotten apple in the barrel."

Following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, Rakisits received a telephone call at his home in Florida from Sheik Hasse, third son of Mohammed Bin Laden, in Saudi Arabia.

"He said, ‘Captain Paul, regarding the news in New York, we have nothing to do with this, and the family wants to extend our apology to you and your family,'" Rakisits said.'

Rakisits was well acquainted with the Bin Laden family. However, of Osama, he said, "I never met the man, thank God. He was a renegade. Because of the family wealth, he was able to get a tremendous amount of money." Osama's father, Mohammed Bin Laden, had two sons, Sheik Salem and Sheik Hasse, for whom Rakisits worked.

"The Bin Laden brothers who I was associated with had several aircraft, and I flew for them. Mohammed Bin Laden, the father, got killed in a place on the Yemen border," he said.

The aviator spoke highly of the Bin Ladens he knew. "The Bin Laden family is the most wonderful, most giving family that you can imagine."

While flying dignitaries from Bangkok to a point on the Vietnam-Laotian border Rakisits was shot down in Laos in 1972 and spent six weeks in a hospital in Bangkok.

"My co-pilot was killed," he said. "I hid in a rice paddy and made it out."

On another flight, he said, "I was the last airplane to leave Saigon -- a Convair 440. When I taxied out, there off to my left was a Jeep (with a man) waving his arms. They followed me to the end of the runway." Although there was no room for added passengers, he said, he took the man on board, as they were hit in the tail four times by gunfire.

"The man," he said, "was Prince Ponya, son of the king of Laos. I flew him to Phnom Penh."

Rakisits has also flown for Mobutu Sese Seku in Zaire, or what was then called the Belgian Congo.

As a young man, Rakisits got his start flying Mitchell B25 borate bombers. He joined the United States Army Air Corps in 1943.

He first saw the woman he would marry when she was standing in the open doorway of an aircraft. Marie Jeanne Fransau Pieter was chief stewardess with American International. Though it was just a glimpse, he never forgot the beautiful young stewardess he had briefly seen and some time later when he happened to see her in a Luxembourg hotel. He immediately recognized her.

"Two gals walked in," he said. "One was my wife, Marie Jeanne. From that moment, we have never separated." He married the Belgian beauty in 1962.

The couple lived in the Belgian Congo from 1961 until 1963, and in 1964 they began their 18-year stay (off and on) in Saudi Arabia. They resided in Hollywood, Florida for 19 years prior to purchasing a home in Payson last September. The aviator retired 10 years ago.

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