Former Apollo 8 astronaut identified as pilot in plane crash between 2 U.S. islands near Vancouver Island

Former Apollo 8 astronaut identified as pilot in plane crash between 2 U.S. islands near Vancouver Island
Phillip Person/Facebook
First responders are searching the area between Orcas and Jones islands after receiving reports of a plane crash.

Family members have identified former Apollo 8 astronaut Retired Maj. Gen. William Anders, known for taking the iconic “Earthrise” photo showing the planet as a shadowed blue marble from space in 1968, as the pilot who died in a plane crash east of North Saanich on Friday afternoon.

The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) was dispatched to Orcas and Jones islands for a report of a plane crash between the two U.S. islands.

The San Juan County Sheriff’s Office says the initial call about the crash came in at 11:40 a.m. saying that an “older model plane” was flying from north to south and then went into the water near the north end of Jones Island and then sunk.

USCG crews and the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office said Friday afternoon that they were in the area conducting search and rescue efforts.

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

“The family is devastated,” Greg Anders said. “He was a great pilot and we will miss him terribly.”

Story continues below:

FILE – Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders talks about astronaut Neil Armstrong following private services for Armstrong, Aug. 31, 2012, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Al Behrman, File)

William Anders 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 history interview 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.

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

Story continues below:

The photo Anders took on Dec. 24, 1968, is shown. The file photo, made available by NASA, shows the Earth behind the surface of the moon during the Apollo 8 mission. William Anders/NASA via AP, File

“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.”

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.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Association (FAA) says only the pilot was onboard the plane at the time of the crash.

The The FAA and U.S. National Transportation Safety Board say they are investigating the crash of a Beech A45 airplane near Jones Island.

Video of the plane crash can be watched below. Viewer discretion is advised:

Laura BroughamLaura Brougham
The Associated PressThe Associated Press

Recent Stories

Send us your news tips and videos!