FLYING Magazine

Retired Major General William Anders, military pilot, Apollo-era NASA astronaut, and founder of the Heritage Flight Museum in Washington state was killed Friday while flying his Beechcraft T-34A Mentor. He was 90.

In a statement, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson remembered Anders as the embodiment of the lessons and purpose of exploration.

“In 1968, as a member of the Apollo 8 crew, as one of the first three people to travel beyond the reach of our Earth and orbit the moon, Bill Anders gave to humanity among the deepest of gifts an explorer and an astronaut can give,” Nelson said. “Along with the Apollo 8 crew, Bill was the first to show us, through looking back at the Earth from the threshold of the moon, that stunning image—the first of its kind—of the Earth suspended in space, illuminated in light and hidden in darkness: the ‘Earthrise.’”

On Dec. 24, 1968, Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders became the first humans to orbit the Moon, and the first to witness the magnificent sight called ‘Earthrise.’ [Courtesy: NASA]

The accident happened around noon as Anders was maneuvering over the water north of  Harbor Airport (KFHR) approximately 20 miles southwest of Bellingham, Washington. 

The event was captured on cell phone video by tourists, who saw Anders flying the vintage military aircraft in a manner they described to local television stations as “something you would see in an airshow.”

The video shows the aircraft diving toward the water as if in a loop, but it did not clear the surface. The witness who captured the video said it appeared that the aircraft’s wing struck the surface, then it broke apart and caught fire. Anders was alone in the aircraft.

Authorities responded to the scene quickly. A TFR was placed over the area during the search for the aircraft and Anders. By evening the body was recovered and the aircraft located.

The National Transportation Safety Board and the FAA are investigating the accident.

Anders is survived by his wife Valerie, six children, and 13 grandchildren.

His son, retired Air Force lieutenant colonel Greg Anders, told the Associated Press that the family is devastated by the loss and asked for privacy at this time. According to a post on the web page of the Heritage Flight Museum, the facility was closed on Saturday out of respect.

Early Life

William A. Anders was born on October 17, 1933, in Hong Kong, the son of an U.S. Navy officer.

Eventually, the family returned to the U.S., settling in Southern California. Anders entered the U.S. Naval Academy, graduating in 1955 with a degree in engineering. He was commissioned into the U.S. Air Force, where he earned his wings in 1956. His first assignment out of pilot training was flying the F-89 Scorpion armed with nuclear-tipped, air-to-air missiles.

In 1962, Anders graduated from the Air Force Institute of Technology with a degree in nuclear engineering and was assigned to the Air Force Weapons Laboratory at Kirtland AFB in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He applied to be an astronaut and in 1963 he was selected, initially assigned to the backup crew for the Gemini 11 mission.

Anders, who flew helicopters in addition to airplanes, was one of the first astronauts to pilot the Lunar Landing Training Vehicle. This earned him his spot as the Lunar Module pilot on the Apollo 8 mission.

The mission launched in 1968 and made Anders, Frank Borman, and Jim Lovell the first three men to orbit the moon. During the mission Anders took a photo of the Earth from space. The image, called “Earthrise,” showed the planet as no one had seen it before. One of the most memorable moments of the flight came on Christmas Eve when, in a live broadcast from the moon, the crew read the first verses from the book of Genesis.

Anders would later become the backup Command Module pilot for the Apollo 11 lunar landing mission and was then asked to serve as the executive secretary of the National Aeronautics and Space Council in Washington, D.C.

He was also appointed a commissioner on the Atomic Energy Commission. In 1975, President Gerald Ford tapped him to be the first chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Anders reacquired his military commission in the Air Force Reserves while also working in the civilian sector as the vice president of the General Electric Company, serving in its nuclear and aircraft divisions.

In the 1980s Anders took leadership positions at civilian aviation companies such as Textron and General Dynamics, where in his role as chairman and CEO he was one of the test pilots in the aircraft division, flying missions to test the new systems on the F-16 Fighting Falcon.

Anders and his wife Valerie retired to Washington state in the 1990s, and he returned to general aviation with an emphasis on flying vintage military designs.

In 1996 the family established the Heritage Flight Museum. According to the museum, it began when Anders took possession of a P-51 Mustang dubbed Val-Halla. The collection soon grew to include a DHC-2 Beaver painted in Air Force rescue colors and a Bearcat that had competed in the 1964 Reno Air Races. He named the aircraft Wampus Cat and raced both it and Val-Halla at Reno in the late ’90s.

Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders, Lunar Module pilot, adjusts his helmet as he suits up for the Apollo 8 mission. [Courtesy: NASA]

The museum has continued to grow over the years and today has many artifacts and vehicles that showcase military aviation. The Anders family also takes the show on the road, as he was a founding member of the Air Force Heritage Flight Team, which are civilian-owned warbirds that fly in formation with today’s current USAF fighters.

“At every step of Bill’s life was the iron will of a pioneer, the grand passion of a visionary, the cool skill of a pilot, and the heart of an adventurer who explored on behalf of all of us,” Nelson said. “His impact will live on through the generations. All of NASA, and all of those who look up into the twinkling heavens and see grand new possibilities of dazzling new dreams, will miss a great hero who has passed on: Bill Anders.”

The post Apollo Astronaut William Anders, 90, Dies in T-34 Crash appeared first on FLYING Magazine.

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