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Details of Apollo astronaut’s fatal plane crash revealed

by John Jefferson
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Retired Maj. Gen. William Anders, the former Apollo 8 astronaut who took the iconic “Earthrise” photo who died last month while piloting a plane over the waters off Washington state, was doing a flyby near a friend’s house when the deadly accident happened, federal authorities said Tuesday.

Anders had texted a friend to say he planned to do a flyby near her house on the western shore of Orcas Island, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said in its preliminary report. 

The friend began to hear the “familiar” noise of his Beech A45 airplane, the NTSB said, around 11:37 a.m. She briefly lost sight of the plane as it flew behind trees. When she saw it come back into view, it was heading south and flying over the water. After it passed by, she saw the left wing drop and thought it was part of his routine. However, the wing continued to drop as the plane plummeted toward the water below.

At the same time, another witness on the same shoreline north of Anders’ friend’s home was using his phone to film the vintage airplane passing by, the NTSB said. Over the course of the video, the plane can be seen plunging toward the water in a near vertical dive before its right wingtip strikes the water.


The friend and the person who took the video were the only two witnesses to come forward, the NTSB said.

The body of the 90-year-old Anders was recovered that afternoon.

The fuselage was located about 1,700 feet west of the plane’s last radar target in about 30 feet of water. Most of the wreckage was recovered from the channel the week following the crash and has been stored for further examination. 


William Anders 1967

Anders’ Beech A45, N268AF, was based out of Skagit Regional Airport in Burlington, the NTSB said, in a museum facility founded by him. 

His son was working at the museum the day of the crash and reported his father in “good spirits” prior to performing an “Orcas run” flight around the San Juan Island archipelago that included a pass over his previous Orcas Island home. 

Moonrise from AP

During a telecast on Christmas Eve 1968, the Apollo 8 crew read verses from the first chapter of Genesis and wished viewers, “Good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas and God bless all of you – all of you on the good Earth.” 

Anders took the “Earthrise” photo while in lunar orbit on Dec. 24, 1968, according to NASA. 

Anders, along with Apollo 8 crew mates, was one of the first three people to have traveled to the moon. He also has a crater on the moon named in his honor named “The Anders Crater,” according to the Anders Foundation website. 

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

FOX News’ Stepheny Price and The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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