Astronaut William Anders killed in plane crash off San Juan Islands (2024)

Retired Maj. Gen. and former Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders, who took the iconic “Earthrise” photo, was killed Friday when the plane he was piloting alone plummeted into the waters off the San Juan Islands. He was 90.

The former astronaut’s son, Greg Anders, confirmed the death to The Associated Press.

The San Juan County Sheriff’s Office, along with personnel from the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife and U.S. Coast Guard were on the scene of the aircraft that went down off of Jones Island in the San Juan Channel. The first report of this incident came in around 11:40 a.m.

“We received multiple 911 calls came in at the same time,” San Juan County Sheriff Eric Peter said to KIRO Newsradio.

Anders on KIRO Newsradio: ‘Earthrise’ photographer who called Northwest home on his famous picture

At that time, it was revealed an older-model plane was flying from north to south and then went into the water near the north end of Jones Island and sunk, according to a news release from the sheriff’s office. Peter also confirmed those details to KIRO Newsradio.

Only the pilot was on board the Beech A45 airplane at the time, according to the Federal Aviation Association (FAA).

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and FAA are investigating the crash.

Chief Petty Officer Kip Wadlow told KIRO Newsradio the U.S. Coast Guard also responded to the incident.

“Our focus right now is getting to the scene so we can locate anyone in the water at this time,” Wadlow said Friday afternoon.

More on William Anders and ‘Earthrise’

William Anders graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1955 and then was commissioned in the Air Force. In 1964, NASA selected Anders as an astronaut with responsibilities for dosimetry, radiation effects and environmental controls, according to a biography posted on the NASA website. (A PDF of Anders’ biography can be seen here.)

He was a backup pilot for the Gemini XI, Apollo 11 flights, and was lunar module pilot for Apollo 8 — the first lunar orbit mission in December 1968.

William Anders is credited with taking one of the most famous photos in American history. Called “Earthrise,” the image shows the Earth behind the surface of the moon during the Apollo 8 mission. It was taken on Christmas Eve in 1968.

He has said the photo was his most significant contribution to the space program, given the ecological philosophical impact it had, along with making sure the Apollo 8 command module and service module worked.

The photograph, the first color image of Earth from space, is one of the most important photos in modern history for the way it changed how humans viewed the planet. The photo is credited with sparking the global environmental movement for showing how delicate and isolated Earth appeared from space.

William Anders said in an 1997 NASA oral historyinterview that he didn’t think the Apollo 8 mission was risk-free but there were important national, patriotic and exploration reasons for going ahead. He estimated there was about one in three chance that the crew wouldn’t make it back and the same chance the mission would be a success and the same chance that the mission wouldn’t start to begin with. He said he suspected Christopher Columbus sailed with worse odds.

This Dec. 24, 1968 photo made available by NASA shows the Earth behind the surface of the moon during the Apollo 8 mission. (File photo: William Anders, NASA via AP)

He recounted how earth looked fragile and seemingly physically insignificant, yet was home.

“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,” William Anders said. “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 really contrasted.”

Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly, who is also a retired NASA astronaut, wrote on the social platform X: “Bill Anders forever changed our perspective of our planet and ourselves with his famous Earthrise photo on Apollo 8. He inspired me and generations of astronauts and explorers. My thoughts are with his family and friends.”

Anders and his wife, Valerie, founded the Heritage Flight Museum in Skagit County in 1996. It is now based at a regional airport in Burlington, and features 15 aircrafts, several antique military vehicles, a library and many artifacts donated by veterans, according to the museum’s website. Two of his sons helped him run it.

The couple moved to Orcas Island, in the San Juan archipelago, in 1993, and kept a second home in their hometown of San Diego, according to a biography on the museum’s website. They had six children and 13 grandchildren.

Contributing: The Associated Press; Steve Coogan, MyNorthwest; Heather Bosch, KIRO Newsradio

Steve Coogan is the lead editor of MyNorthwest. You can read more of his stories here. Follow Steve on X, or email him here.

Astronaut William Anders killed in plane crash off San Juan Islands (2024)
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