|The Virgin Galactic Two Spaceship|
THE pilot who miraculously survived the Virgin spaceship disaster has revealed how he was blasted from the wreckage of the disintegrating rocket ship and plummeted nearly ten miles back to Earth.
Having suffered serious injuries, the experienced test pilot only regained consciousness halfway into his fall but was composed enough to give a thumbs-up to colleagues in a passing aircraft to show he was alive.
Peter Siebold spoke for the first time about the tragedy that killed his close friend, copilot Mike Alsbury, revealing he blacked out as the craft broke up around him at 50,000ft but was saved by his emergency parachute.
Siebold, 43, a married father of two, said: “I must have lost consciousness at first. I can’t remember anything about what happened but I must have come to during the fall. I remember waving to the chase plane and giving them the thumbs-up to tell them I was OK. I know it’s a miracle I survived.”
The craft’s rocket was ignited at 50,000ft (15.24km). The pilots, wearing oxygen masks, were pinned against their seats by gravitational forces as the craft accelerated at more than 1500km/h.
Then disaster occurred. Preliminary investigations suggest that the rocket ship’s folding wings — designed to slow it down and achieve safe speeds during landing — deployed early, causing the ship to break up due to the tremendous turbulence around the craft.
Alsbury was trapped in the cockpit but Siebold was thrown clear of the wreckage or somehow unbuckled his seatbelt. He then plunged towards Earth at speeds topping 193km/h. Witnesses reported seeing Siebold descending with part of the base of his seat still attached. It is likely that his oxygen mask, attached to a portable tank, remained in place. But at that altitude, the sudden decompression and extreme G-forces would have caused him to black out in seconds.
His emergency parachute deployed t about 20,000ft. It is not known if he pulled the cord or if it unfurled automatically. Both pilots were wearing parachutes calibrated to open automatically at a certain height in the event they became unconscious during an emergency.
The body of Alsbury, 39, was found still strapped into his seat on a desert road by construction workers. His parachute did not deploy. His wife Michelle said she had “lost the love of my life”.
The investigation into this month’s crash is now likely to delay any commercial flight for at least another year. But Branson has vowed to press ahead with the project, while acknowledging the risks taken by his test pilots. Last night, Mr Whitesides paid tribute to Siebold, saying: “It will be regarded as one of the most amazing test flight survival stories of all time.”
Additional reporting by Peter Sheridan