General Conference

Adventist mission pilot Roberts dies in plane accident in Indonesia

Longtime missionary to Africa, Southeast Asia flew thousands of relief flights

Sentani, Papua, Indonesia | Gay Deles/Kevin Costello/Teresa Costello

An Adventist Aviation-Indonesia (AAI) mission plane piloted by veteran pilot Bob Roberts crashed upon takeoff this morning at the AAI headquarters in Papua, claiming his life as well as those of several passengers on board. 

Witnesses said that the plane, a Quest Kodiak, appeared to have trouble lifting off just before it slammed into a bridge at the end of the runway. An official cause has yet to be determined by crash site investigators. 

Roberts' work included delivering food, medicine and urgently needed supplies as well as transporting sick and needy passengers to and from the many isolated mountain villages of Papua. He was well known throughout the islands and had flown more than a thousand relief flights.

Roberts and his wife Jan, originally from the United States, have served AAI for more than 20 years in Papua. The couple previously served as missionaries in the African countries of Ethiopia, Tanzania and Zaire (now Congo) from 1976 to 1992. They have three grown children.

“He died doing what he loved best," Jan said.

Roberts is remembered by Darron Boyd, Adventist Mission and Evangelism coordinator in Papua, as someone who brought hope in his small aircraft to those in remote areas. Despite the often extreme terrain conditions that made his work challenging, Roberts had a love for his mission. “If they’re really sick…, we fly them for free,” he said in an Adventist Mission video report last year. “Those are the kind of things that make you glad you’re a mission pilot. Helping people who would not have hope otherwise. That’s why we’re here.” 

Jonathan Kuntaraf, director of the Adventist world church’s Sabbath School and Personal Ministries department said he was saddened by the death of Roberts, who was serving in his home country. “He and his wife are very dedicated people. Together we worked to raise money for the education of underprivileged children in Papua. Please pray for the family during this challenging and difficult time."

To see the feature video of Bob’s mission work in Papua, visit this link and click on Called to Fly: 

The Indonesian state of Papua is home to 2 million people and 20 language groups. It is also home to the East Indonesia Union Conference, which has 763 churches and more than 101,000 church members.