A Walla Walla native who spent most of his life as a pilot for Seventh-day Adventist relief missions overseas died in a plane crash Wednesday in Indonesia.
Bob Roberts was taking off from Adventist Aviation-Indonesia headquarters in Sentani, on the Pacific archipelago’s Papua Province, when the airplane failed to gain sufficient altitude and crashed into a bridge beyond the end of the runway and burst into flames, according to the Jakarta Post, quoting a police official.
Six passengers were aboard the Quest Kodiak. Roberts, 62, and a male passenger identified as Danis Kobak, 34, died in the crash, the newspaper reported. Two other passengers suffered serious injuries and three suffered minor injuries.
Two motorcyclists who were crossing the bridge also were injured.
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An investigation into the cause of the crash is continuing.
“He loved to fly, it was his passion,” said Roberts’ sister, Verna Canaday, who lives in the Tri-Cities. “So l like I say to people that he died with his boots on.”
She said her brother worked for the church in Africa from 1976-91 flying health care and relief missions in Ethiopia, Tanzania and Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo. He then went to Indonesia in the early 1990s with his wife Jan to do the same work there.
“In later years he was also doing commercial air taxi work to keep the plane going for the church,” Canaday said.
Born June 14, 1951, at Walla Walla General Hospital, Roberts graduated high school from Upper Columbia Academy in Spangle, Wash., near Spokane, his sister said.
It was there that he bought his first airplane, a 1940 Cessna taildragger, because the academy would not allow students to own cars, Canaday said.
He then attended Walla Walla College, now Walla Walla University, and Eastern Washington University, she said. But but his heart was in being behind the controls of an airplane.
“He spent too much time in an airplane and did not graduate,” Canaday said.
A large gathering of family and friends was expected at Robert’s funeral in Sentani on Friday morning (Thursday afternoon in Walla Walla), where he will be buried near the airstrip and hangar, she said.
“The entire community is reeling from this tragedy,” Heidi Roberts said in her email. “Bob touched so many lives, and we may never know all the stories. Hearing a few just this past day and a half has already been quite amazing.”