Famous Astronaut Killed in Plane Crash

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William Anders, a retired major general and former Apollo 8 astronaut, died at age 90 when the plane he was piloting crashed into the ocean off the San Juan Islands, Washington. Known for capturing the iconic “Earthrise” photo during the 1968 Apollo 8 mission, Anders’ death marks a significant loss in the history of space exploration.

On June 7, 2024, at approximately 11:40 a.m. local time, a Beech A45 plane crashed near Roche Harbor, Washington. The U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Northwest confirmed the incident, with Air Station Port Angeles and Station Port Angeles conducting search and rescue operations. 

Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Greg Anders, his son, informed The Associated Press of his father’s passing, expressing, “The family is heartbroken. He was an exceptional pilot, and we will miss him deeply.” Anders expressed the family’s grief, noting that his father’s body was recovered shortly after the crash.

William Alison Anders, born on October 17, 1933, in Hong Kong, had a Navy lieutenant as his father. He was raised in San Diego and completed his education at the United States Naval Academy at 22. Anders earned a master’s degree in nuclear engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology. Chosen by NASA in 1964, he served as a backup pilot for both Gemini XI and Apollo 11 and as the lunar module pilot for Apollo 8.

During the Apollo 8 mission, Anders collaborated with Navy veteran James Lovell and Air Force veteran Frank Borman. Anders took the iconic “Earthrise” photograph from their command module orbiting the Moon. Reflecting on its significance in a 2015 Forbes interview, he remarked, “The view highlights the beauty and fragility of Earth.” This photograph is credited with helping to spark the global environmental movement.

After completing his space career, Anders retired from the Air Force and NASA in 1969. He went on to hold several high-profile roles, such as executive secretary of the National Aeronautics and Space Council, chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and U.S. ambassador to Norway. In the private sector, he served as chairman and CEO of General Dynamics.

Anders and his wife Valerie established the Heritage Flight Museum in Washington state in 1996. Now situated in Burlington, the museum displays aircraft, military vehicles, and various artifacts from Anders’ career.

The National Transportation Safety Board and the FAA are investigating the cause of the accident.

William Anders leaves behind his wife, Valerie; his sons, Greg, Alan, Glen, and Eric; and his daughters, Diana and Gayle. His enduring legacy is reflected in his significant contributions to space exploration and environmental conservation.

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