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Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders, 90, killed in plane crash

Earthrise as seen from Apollo 8, December 1968

Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders, 90, who took the iconic Earthrise picture (to the right and oriented as he framed it when he snapped it), was killed today when the plane he was piloting went down in the waters near the San Juan Islands off the coast of the state of Washington.

A report came in around 11:40 a.m. that an older-model plane crashed into the water and sank near the north end of Jones Island, San Juan County Sheriff Eric Peter said. Greg Anders confirmed to KING-TV that his father’s body was recovered Friday afternoon.

Only the pilot was on board the Beech A45 airplane at the time, according to the Federal Aviation Association.

I will have more to write about Anders later, whom I had met and interviewed many times when I was writing Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8. Of all the astronauts, he was probably the most thoughtful about matters outside of engineering, space exploration, or aviation.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

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  • wayne

    I’ll drop this in here.
    One of the most exciting things, I’ve ever witnessed:

  • Ray Van Dune

    My first impression on viewing the video was that it showed a vertical plunge, as might result from a structural failure. This was also reinforced by my invalid assumption that he was flying some type of homebuilt aircraft.

    Then I read that it was a military trainer of relatively recent vintage, a Beech Mentor. This caused me to re-view the video.

    What I saw was that at the start of the clip, the aircraft was in an “inverted dive” – in other words upside down in a steep dive, but not a vertical one. Then it appears that the plane does go vertical, and then begins to pull up to recover from what is by then a very high speed dive.

    By the time the water is hit, the plane is upright and very nose-low, but not plunging vertically, since it can be seen that the explosive force of the impact is significantly deflected horizontally.

    So during the clip, the plane goes from nose-down inverted, through the vertical, to nose down but upright, as if a recovery from an aerobatic maneuver was misjudged. But given the experience level of the pilot, I think such a simple explanation is unlikely. RIP, Sir.

    Ps. I am not an expert, but had my own experience with this type of situation while practicing aerobatics, and very nearly made the wrong recovery decision, which would have been fatal.

  • Ray Van Dune: My immediate reaction was that Anders was doing an aerobotic maneuver and misjudged his altitude. He couldn’t complete it before hitting the water.

    This guy had been flying for more than sixty years without making this kind of serious error, but then he was also now 90.

  • Ray Van Dune

    Yes, Robert I agree, but I was reluctant to say so about a legend such as Anders. And Juan Browne, AKA “Blancolirio”, also seems to agree…

    He says ADSB (transponder) data shows Gen. Anders was flying at around 1000 ft ASL or lower, but it cannot show what maneuvers he was doing.

    That’s waaaay too low for aerobatics, but there’s hardly any other explanation for how you get into an inverted dive. If you let the nose down too low in a roll and the speed starts to get away on you, the temptation to just pull back and split-S out is overwhelming! Been there.

  • John

    It’s hard to tell from the video I saw, but it looks like he intentionally rolled to do a split S, and didn’t have the altitude. We’ll have to wait for the NTSB report.

    That T-34 is a hell of a general aviation aircraft. Kudos to a 90 year old. He was old, so he wasn’t bold. Poor decision making and loss of situational awareness can occur at any age.

  • Jay

    At first I thought he was flying his P-51 out of the Heritage Flight Museum on the west side, but yes it was a T-34 he was flying. I actually have a poster of Bill Anders flying his P-51 “Val-Halla” in my office. I was sad to hear his passing on Friday.

  • Jeff Wright

    Best way to go, really.

    How many vets die alone in nursing homes gurgling on their own sick due to nurses gossiping on FaceTime?

    I’ll take HIGH FLIGHT any day.

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