Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders, famed for capturing one of the most iconic photographs in space, has died in a plane crash at the age of 90. Officials report that the

small aircraft he was piloting crashed into the sea off the coast of Washington state.

Anders' son, Greg, confirmed that his father's body was recovered on Friday afternoon. "The family is devastated. He was a great pilot. He will be missed," the family stated.

Anders, who served as the lunar module pilot on the Apollo 8 mission, took the renowned Earthrise photograph, which remains one of the most memorable and inspirational images of Earth from space. Captured on Christmas Eve during the 1968 mission, the first crewed space flight to leave Earth and reach the Moon, the picture shows the Earth rising above the lunar horizon. Anders later described it as his most significant contribution to the space program.

This iconic image is credited with inspiring the global environmental movement and leading to the establishment of Earth Day, an annual event promoting environmental activism and awareness. Reflecting on the moment, Anders said, "We came all this way to explore the Moon, and the most important thing that we discovered was the Earth."

The crash occurred around 11:40 PDT (19:40 BST). The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reported that Anders was flying a Beechcraft A A 45, also known as a T-34. The plane crashed approximately 80 feet (25 meters) from the coast of Jones Island. Witness Philip Person told King-TV in Seattle that he saw the plane attempt a loop, become inverted, and crash, resulting in a large explosion and flames.

Footage purportedly showing the crash indicates an attempt to pull up at the last moment before the plane hit the water and burst into flames. BBC News has not verified the video.

In addition to his Apollo 8 mission, Anders served as the backup pilot for the Apollo 11 mission, which led to the first Moon landing on July 20, 1969. After retiring from the space program in 1969, Anders worked in the aerospace industry for several decades and served as the US Ambassador to Norway for a year in the 1970s. He is best remembered for the Apollo 8 mission and the Earthrise photograph.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement, "In 1968, during Apollo 8, Bill Anders offered humanity one of the deepest gifts an astronaut can give. He traveled to the threshold of the Moon and helped all of us see something else: ourselves."

In a previous interview, Anders described taking the photo after receiving "a little bit of photography training." He recalled, "We were in lunar orbit, upside down and going backwards, so for the first several revolutions we did not see the Earth. Then we twisted the spacecraft so it was going forward and suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw this color - it was shocking. So I just took a shot, moved it, took a shot, moved it."

Mark Kelly, a former astronaut and current US Senator for Arizona, posted on X (formerly Twitter), stating that Anders "inspired me and generations of astronauts and explorers. My thoughts are with his family and friends." Photo by NASA, Wikimedia commons.