Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders, who captured ‘Earthrise,’ killed in plane crash


Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders, who captured ‘Earthrise,’ killed in plane crash

Bill Anders, who as an Apollo 8 astronaut was one of the first people to fly to the moon in 1968, was killed on Friday (June 7) when the vintage plane he was piloting crashed off the coast of the San Juan Islands in northwest Washington State.

Anders, 90, was confirmed to be the pilot of the downed Beechcraft T-34 Mentor single-engined aircraft by his son in a statement to the media.

“The family is devastated,” said Greg Anders. “He was a great pilot. He will be missed.”

“He traveled to the threshold of the moon and helped all of us see something else: ourselves. He embodied the lessons and the purpose of exploration. We will miss him,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson in a statement.

The plane crash occurred at about 11:40 a.m. PDT (1840 GMT) off the coast of Jones Island in San Juan Channel, near Orcas Island where Anders resided. The aircraft was one of three such Air Force trainers owned and operated by Anders’ Heritage Flight Museum in Burlington, Washington.

Video of the accident taken by local residents appeared to show Anders failing to pull up at the bottom of a loop and impacting the water.

Related: 50 years after ‘Earthrise,’ a Christmas Eve message from its photographer

Astronaut Bill Anders holds models of the Gemini spacecraft and its docking target vehicle in his 1964 NASA official portrait. (Image credit: NASA)

A member of NASA’s third group of astronauts chosen in 1963, Anders’ only flight into space was as lunar module pilot on the Apollo 8 crew. On Dec. 21, 1968, Anders, together with mission commander Frank Borman and command module pilot James Lovell, became the first people to launch on NASA’s Saturn V rocket on a six-day mission to circle the moon.

Three days later, Anders and his crewmates entered lunar orbit, where they were the first to see our home planet emerge from beyond the moon’s horizon. Anders’ now-iconic color photo of “Earthrise” was credited with inspiring the environmental movement and was reproduced on a U.S. postage stamp.

“The most impressive aspect of the flight was [when] we were in lunar orbit,” said Bill Anders in a 1997 NASA oral history. “We’d been going backwards and upside down, didn’t really see the Earth or the sun, and when we rolled around and came around and saw the first Earthrise. That certainly was, by far, the most impressive thing, to see this very delicate, colorful orb — which to me looked like a Christmas tree ornament — coming up over this very stark, ugly lunar landscape.”

Anders was also one the first people to see in person the far side of the moon.

Splashing down in the North Pacific Ocean, Anders logged a total of six days, three hours and 42 seconds in space, including 20 hours completing 10 orbits of the moon.

Bill Anders adjust his communications carrier (“Snoopy cap”) while getting suited up for the Apollo 8 mission launch in 1968. (Image credit: NASA)

William Alison “Bill” Anders was born on Oct. 17, 1933, in Hong Kong, where his father was then stationed by the U.S. Navy. 

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