William Anders, Apollo 8 astronaut, killed in San Juan Islands plane crash

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William Anders, Apollo 8 astronaut, killed in WA plane crash

The pilot of a plane that was destroyed in a fiery crash just off the San Juan Islands was confirmed to be former Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders, who is now confirmed dead.

Retired American astronaut William Anders, who was a member of the Apollo 8 crew, was killed in a plane crash just off the San Juan Islands on Friday afternoon.

Anders' son, retired Air Force Lt. Col. Greg Anders, confirmed the death to The Associated Press.

The plane that crashed was a vintage Air Force T-34 Mentor, which is owned by Anders, who is also a San Juan County resident. 

Close-up of American astronaut William Anders, of NASA's Apollo 8 mission, during a panel interview held at the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, Illinois, April 5, 2018. (Photo by J.B. Spector/Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago/Getty Images)

Anders was reportedly piloting the plane when it crashed. "The family is devastated," Greg Anders said. "He was a great pilot and we will miss him terribly."

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Video shows fiery small plane crash into WA waters near Orcas Island

Crews responded to a plane crash in the San Juan Islands on Friday afternoon. Officials with the United States Coast Guard Pacific Northwest said the crash happened near Orcas Island before 11:45 a.m.

Early life of William Anders

William Anders was born on Oct. 17, 1933, in Hong Kong, but he grew up in San Diego. In 1955, Anders graduated from the United States Naval Academy with a bachelor of science degree, and received his master of science degree in nuclear engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology in 1962. He completed the Harvard Business School Advanced Management Program in 1979.

Recruited by NASA

In 1964, Anders was selected by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to be an astronaut with responsibilities for dosimetry, radiation effects and environmental control. 

He was a backup pilot for the Gemini XI, Apollo 11 flights, and was lunar module pilot for Apollo 8.

Apollo 8 mission

In 1968, Anders operated the Apollo 8 mission alongside Air Force veteran Frank F. Borman II and Navy veteran James A. Lovell, Jr. In total, he logged more than 6,000 hours of flying time.

During this mission, their command module floated above the lunar surface, and the astronauts beamed back images of the moon and Earth and took turns reading from the Book of Genesis, closing with a wish for everyone "on the good Earth."

From L to R, Apollo 8 astronauts spacecraft Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot James Lovell and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders, who became the first humans to escape Earth's gravity and the first humans to see the far side of the Moon, l …

According to NASA, the mission was also famous for the iconic "Earthrise" image, snapped by Anders, which would give humankind a new perspective on their home planet. Anders has said that despite all the training and preparation for an exploration of the moon, the astronauts ended up discovering Earth.

FILE - This Dec. 24, 1968, file photo made available by NASA shows the Earth behind the surface of the moon during the Apollo 8 mission. Retired Maj. Gen. William Anders, the former Apollo 8 astronaut who took the iconic "Earthrise" photo showing the …

William Anders' retirement

In 1988, Anders retired from the Air Force Reserves and became the chairman and CEO of General Dynamics Corporation in 1991. After two years, he retired from General Dynamics and stayed as chairman until 1994. 

Anders and his wife Valerie moved to Orcas Island in 1993. They have six children and 13 grandchildren. 

Group portrait of, from left, American astronauts William Anders, James Lovell, and Frank Borman, all of whom participated in NASA's Apollo 8 mission, as they pose together at the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, Illinois, April 5, 2018. (Pho …

Shortly after retiring, the couple established the Anders Foundation supporting educational and environmental concerns as a vehicle for supporting several of their interests, including Yosemite National Institute and the Olympic Park Institute. 

In 1996, the couple started the Heritage Flight Museum around the P-51 Val-Halla. It has steadily grown ever since and currently resides at Skagit Regional Airport in Burlington. As the museum grew, their two sons found a passion for aviation and joined them in the Puget Sound area to help run the museum.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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