Mystery of RI-002

On October 1, 1948, a cargo plane Douglas DC-3, registered as RI-002 took off from Yogyakarta. The plane was the backbone of Indonesia’s air force (AURI) which was fighting for survival against the Netherlands’ colonial army. There were five crew, one passenger, medical supplies and 20 kilograms of gold from Cikoto aboard that plane. The gold was intended to be used to purchase more aircraft to Indonesia. Moments after the plane took off from the town of Tanjung Karang at the southern tip of Sumatra, it disappeared. Nearly 30 years after the loss of RI-002, 7 April 1978, the plane wreckage was found by a farmer on Mount Punggur, Lampung. However the captain, Bobby Freeberg and the gold bars was not found in the plane.

Freeberg’s niece, Marsha Freeberg Bickham, believes that her uncle didn’t die in a plane crash but was instead captured and imprisoned by the Dutch, and later died in captivity. According to her, not long after RI-002 vanished, Kansas Senator Clyde Reed, a family friend from Parsons, told Freeberg’s parents that their son was alive and that he was trying to get him released from prison. But that was the last the Freeberg family would hear, as Senator Reed died of pneumonia in 1949.

Freeberg was well known to authorities as an American pilot working for the Indonesians, but Dutch archives show no record of his capture, explains William Tuchrello, the Library of Congress attaché in Jakarta.

In the early morning, 30 September 1948, Bobby Freeberg the pilot of RI-002 accompanied with co-pilot Bambang Saptoadji and assisted by Santoso as a reserved co pilot, Sumadi served as a technical expert and Suryatman as a radio operator. The plane took off successfully from the Maguwo air base, Yogyakarta. From Maguwo, the plane was flying into Gorda air base and Tanjung Karang air base, and then the next destination was Bukittinggi.

There is rumors that so far has not been revealed. According to the news, the RI-002 aircraft purchased by using personal savings of Bobby Freeberg. For the record, in the aftermath of the Pacific War, many of the aircraft used (war surplus) sold freely to the public. Surplus war planes can be purchased with or without a pilot's. AURI rumored to charter a plane piloted by Bobby air to break through the blockade by the Dutch military.

The remains of all RI-002 flight crew had been buried as a hero in the Heroes Cemetery in Tanjung Karang on June 29, 1978, to coincide with the Air Force Bhakti.

Until now, the disappearance of Bobby Freeberg still unsolved. Hopefully, one day, the mystery of the missing gold bars weighing 20 kg and Bobby Freeberg, as the captain of RI-002 can be revealed. About three years ago, 7 to 16 May 2009, Tamalia Alisjahbana, as Indonesian curator and director of the Institute of National Archives opened an exhibition in order to commemorate the heroic services of Robert “Bobby” Earl Freeberg and heroic story of RI-002 aircraft and the crew.


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