Former Apollo 8 astronaut was flying over friend’s house before crashing near Victoria: NTSB

Former Apollo 8 astronaut was flying over friend’s house before crashing near Victoria: NTSB
The red line indicates approximate track based on radar data; blue circle denotes location of main wreckage.

A preliminary report from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recounts the moments before 90-year-old William Anders, one of the first men to orbit the moon, crashed his plane in the waters just east of Victoria.

The fatal crash occurred on the sunny morning of June 7 near Deer Island, Wash., only a few dozen kilometres away from B.C.’s capital.

The NTSB says Anders left the Skagit Regional Airport in Burlington, Wash., in his two-seater Beech A45 plane after speaking with his son.

His son said he appeared to be “in good spirits,” and that he was going to be flying around the San Juan Islands in a route he commonly referred to as the “Orcas run.”

At 11 a.m. that day, the NTSB says Anders texted a friend saying he would fly past her house, which was located near his old home on the western end of Orcas Island, around 11:40 a.m.

The friend told the transportation safety board that this wasn’t unusual, but it was the first trip Anders would be making over her house this year.

“She stated that he typically performs two flybys, and although sometimes he rocks the airplanes wings as he passes by, he never performed any kind of aerobatic maneuvers,” reads the NTSB’s preliminary report.

Around 11:30 a.m., Anders would fly near his friend’s home for about nine minutes before crashing.

The friend told the NTSB that she could hear the familiar sound of his plane, and could see it travelling north along the shoreline from her home.

The plane flew in and out of view, and at one point the friend said the plane came back into sight, this time heading south, “but higher than the previous occasions.”

“After it passed by, she could see the left wing drop, and she thought this was part of his usual routine. However, the wing continued to drop as the airplane began to rapidly descend towards the water,” wrote the NTSB.

At this point, a second witness who lived about half a kilometre away also reported hearing what he thought was a “vintage plane” flying nearby and came out onto his dock to record it.

“At the beginning of the recording the airplane was inverted with a slight nose down attitude and heading generally to the south,” said the NTSB.

“Over the next three seconds the airplane had transitioned to an almost vertical dive.”

The transportation safety board says it appears the airplane tried to pull out of the dive as it neared the water, but that it was too late to avoid the water.

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A still taken from the video is shown. (Phillip Person/Facebook)

The NTSB says the information released so far is preliminary, and that the investigation is ongoing.

So far, only the two witnesses included in the preliminary report have come forward with information.

Anders was one of the astronauts in the Apollo 8 mission to the moon in 1968.

His photo, dubbed the “Earthrise” photo, was the first coloured picture of the earth to ever be taken from space, and is credited with being one of the most influential photos that sparked the global environmental movement for showing how delicate and isolated Earth appeared from space.

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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

In a 1997 interview with NASA, he said he thought the astronauts participating in the Apollo 8 mission had a one-in-three chance of never returning, but that there were important national, patriotic and exploration reasons to forge ahead.

“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, that certainly was, by far, the most impressive thing,” he said during the interview.

“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.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story said Anders was one of the first people to walk on the moon. In fact, he was one of the first to travel to the moon in a space capsule and orbit it.

With files from the Associated Press

Adam ChanAdam Chan

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