Spaceship pilot describes harrowing free fall after breakup

Jul 28, 2015, 3:54 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — Free-falling miles above the desert, his test spaceship ripped to pieces and the frigid air hard to breathe, pilot Peter Siebold struggled through crippling injuries to turn on his oxygen and just to stay conscious.

Siebold was aware that Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo had violently disintegrated but then blacked out. When he awoke, still far above the California desert, he repeatedly tried in vain to activate his backup oxygen.

He next remembered the jolt of his parachute automatically opening and the sensation of just having woken up.

The National Transportation Safety Board released Siebold’s description of his harrowing plunge last October during a Tuesday hearing. Siebold did not testify; his account came from a written summary of a January interview done by accident investigators as part of their inquiry.

Virgin Galactic chief executive George Whitesides described Siebold’s survival at the time as miraculous. Though bad, his injuries were not life-threatening — his right leg broke in four places, as did his collarbone. He was cut up, extensively bruised and had trouble seeing.

Siebold didn’t realize the extent of his injuries until he landed, falling forward into a creosote bush.

The pilot told investigators that he considered the test flight high risk because SpaceShipTwo was “flying an unproven rocket motor” on an ambitious flight plan.

The motor was not a factor in the accident. The safety board concluded the breakup was triggered when co-pilot Michael Alsbury prematurely unlocked a braking system as the craft hurtled toward space. Alsbury died in the accident.

Siebold is director of flight operations for Scaled Composites, an aerospace company that has partnered with Virgin Galactic to develop the spacecraft in Mojave, about 80 miles north of downtown Los Angeles.

The safety board emphasized that Scaled Composites had failed to put in place ways that would have prevented the braking system’s early initiation.

Virgin Galactic has said it hopes to resume test flights later this year with a new craft. The company’s goal is to fly six passengers more than 62 miles above Earth.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Science

(Dave Ellis/The Free Lance-Star via AP)...
Corbin Carson

Children’s brains are most elastic, moldable in their first 20 years

New research shows that human brains are most elastic in the first two decades of life.
7 years ago
FILE – This Oct. 21, 1954 file photo shows Dr. Frederick C. Robbins, new chief of pediatrics ...
Associated Press

Human fetal tissue long used for variety of medical studies

Controversy over Planned Parenthood's supplying fetal tissue for research has focused attention on a little-discussed aspect of science.
7 years ago
Malik Muhammad raises his fist during a demonstration calling for the firing and indictment of Texa...
Associated Press

Jail releases more footage of Sandra Bland before her death

Texas authorities on Tuesday released several hours of footage showing Sandra Bland during her three days in jail, saying they wanted to dispel rumors that she was dead before arriving there.
7 years ago
William “Bill” Kelso, Director of Research and Interpretation for the Preservation Virg...
Associated Press

Remains of 4 early colonial leaders discovered at Jamestown

Archaeologists have uncovered human remains of four of the earliest leaders of the English colony that would become America, buried for more than 400 years near the altar of what was America's first Protestant church in Jamestown, Virginia.
7 years ago
n On Monday, July 27, 2015, Hermiston firefighters in hazmat suits carry what was reported as a sus...
Associated Press

FBI: Packages sent to Oregon sheriffs were not toxic

The FBI said Tuesday that no toxic substances have been found in letters sent to about 20 Oregon sheriffs or their offices.
7 years ago
FILE – In this July 8, 2011 file photo Nabire, a white rhino sits in its enclosure at the zoo...
Associated Press

Critically endangered northern white rhino dies at Czech zoo

One of the last five northern white rhinoceros left in the world has died.
7 years ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Dr. Richard Carmona

Great news: Children under 5 can now get COVID-19 vaccine

After more than two years of battle with an invisible killer, we can now vaccinate the youngest among us against COVID-19. This is great news.
...
CANVAS ANNUITY

Best retirement savings rates hit 4.30%

Maximize your retirement savings with guaranteed fixed rates up to 4.30%. Did you know there is a financial product that can give you great interest rates as you build your retirement savings and provide you with a paycheck for life once you retire? It might sound too good to be true but it is not; this product is called an annuity.
...
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Update your child’s vaccines before kindergarten

So, your little one starts kindergarten soon. How exciting! You still have a few months before the school year starts, so now’s the time to make sure students-to-be have the vaccines needed to stay safe as they head into a new chapter of life.
Spaceship pilot describes harrowing free fall after breakup