Apollo 8 Astronaut William Anders Dies in Plane Crash

Space Frontiers
Space Frontiers

Apollo 8 astronaut Maj. General William Anders, who took the famous Earthrise photo showing the Earth from space in 1968, died on Friday when the plane he was piloting went down in the waters off the San Juan Islands in Washington State. He was 90.

He was the only person on board the Beech A45 airplane at the time, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

“The family is devastated,” his son, retired Air Force Lt. Col. Greg Anders, told the Associated Press. “He was a great pilot and we will miss him terribly.”

San Juan county sheriff Eric Peter said a report came in around 11:40 a.m. Friday that an older-model plane had crashed into the water and sunk near the north end of Jones Island.

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

During the Apollo 8 mission, Anders was the lunar module pilot along with Frank Borman, who was the commander, and James Lovell Jr.

After two or three orbits around the moon, he and the crew began shooting photographs.

“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,” he 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.”

The Earthrise photo from 1968 which William Anders described as his biggest achievement as an astronaut.

The Earthrise photo from 1968 which William Anders described as his biggest achievement as an astronaut.


Anders said the Earthrise photograph, the first color image of Earth from space, was his most significant contribution to the space program, after it sparked the global environmental movement. Life magazine listed it as one of its 100 photos of the century.

He married his wife, Valerie, in 1955 and the couple had six children together. They moved to Orcas Island, in the San Juan Islands, in 1993 and kept a second home in their hometown of San Diego.

Retired Nasa astronaut and Arizona Senator Mark Kelly was among those to pay tribute to Anders.

“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,” he wrote on X.

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