Technology & Science

Peter Siebold, surviving Virgin Galactic pilot, recounts SpaceShipTwo crash

The surviving pilot in the crash of Virgin Galactic's suborbital spacecraft, SpaceShipTwo, explained how he survived in an interview with National Transportation Safety Board investigators.

Pilot was thrown from the suborbital spacecraft when it fell apart in mid-air

SpaceShipTwo broke apart at an altitude of about 15,000 meters (50,000 feet) and crashed in the Mojave Desert, 150 kilometres (95 miles) north of Los Angeles on Oct. 31. (Sandy Huffaker/Getty)

The surviving pilot of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo was thrown from the rocket-powered vehicle when it broke apart last month, and he was able to unbuckle from his seat before his parachute deployed automatically, U.S. officials said on Wednesday.

The National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the Oct. 31 crash in Southern California, also said the pilot, Peter Siebold, was unaware that his co-pilot had unlocked the craft's moveable tail section, which appears to have set off a chain of events that led to ship's destruction.

Peter Seibold, 43, was released from a hospital days after suffering a shoulder injury in the crash. (Scaled Composites/Associated Press)

His co-pilot, Mike Alsbury, was killed in the crash.

The safety agency's latest findings come after its investigators interviewed Siebold on Friday. Siebold, 43, was released from a hospital days after suffering a shoulder injury in the crash.

"He stated that he was extracted from the vehicle as a result of the break-up sequence and unbuckled from his seat at some point before the parachute deployed automatically," the NTSB said in a statement.

An NTSB spokesman said in an email that Siebold unbuckled himself during his fall.

SpaceShipTwo broke apart at an altitude of about 15,000 meters (50,000 feet) and crashed in the Mojave Desert,  150 kilometres (95 miles) north of Los Angeles, moments after its separation from the special jet aircraft that carries the spacecraft aloft for its high-altitude launches.

NTSB officials have previously said Alsbury, flying for the ninth time aboard SpaceShipTwo, unlocked the tail section which is designed to pivot upward during atmospheric re-entry to ease descent of the craft.

Alsbury was supposed to have waited until the ship was traveling at 1.4 times the speed of sound, fast enough for aerodynamic forces to hold the tail in place until time to actually move it into descent position, sources familiar with the spacecraft's operation have told Reuters.

The findings released by the NTSB on Wednesday represent only an update on their investigation. Officials from the agency say it could take about a year to piece together exactly what triggered the accident.

      1 of 0

      Comments

      To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

      By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

      now