Co-pilot of Virgin Galactic explosion gives first account of survival

Sheriffs' deputies look at wreckage from the crash of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo near Cantil, California on Nov 2, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Sheriffs' deputies look at wreckage from the crash of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo near Cantil, California on Nov 2, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Mr Peter Siebold, 43, has no recollection of how he was ejected from SpaceShipTwo during the crash. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF SCALED COMPOSITES
Mr Peter Siebold, 43, has no recollection of how he was ejected from SpaceShipTwo during the crash. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF SCALED COMPOSITES

The pilot who miraculously survived the Virgin Galactic spacecraft crash on Oct 31 regained consciousness on his way down, and even gave a thumbs-up to his colleagues to show that he was alive, his father has revealed.

Mr Peter Siebold, 43, has no recollection of how he was ejected from SpaceShipTwo during the crash. The suborbital craft broke apart and hurtled to earth and landed in the Mojave Desert in California shortly after it had detached from a mothership at an altitude of around 13,700 metres.

At that altitude, which is almost twice the height of Everest, the air is dangerously thin, and the temperature more than minus 50 deg C - he would have blacked out in seconds.

He regained consciousness while plummeting down, and recalls signalling to colleagues in a passing aircraft as he plunged down to earth.

Mr Siebold gave this account to his father Dr Klaus Siebold, 79, who was interviewed by Britain's Mail on Sunday.

"He doesn't remember anything from the actual crash. He came to during the descent. He must have woken up about halfway down. When he was on the way down the chase plane was circling him and he was waving and giving the thumbs-up to indicate he was all right while he was dangling from the parachute," Dr Siebold said.

Mr Peter Siebold is now recovering at home from a broken shoulder, rib and lung contusion, and eye problems caused by the extreme cold.

"It's a medical miracle he survived considering the temperature, the lack of oxygen and the barotrauma (injuries caused by a sudden change in pressure)," said Dr Siebold, who is also a pilot.

Mr Peter Siebold's co-pilot Michael Alsbury, 39, died in the accident over the Mojave desert in California. His body was found strapped to his seat in the rocket plane's wreckage, which was scattered across the desert floor.

Both pilots were wearing thin flight suits, and had parachutes that were supposed to deploy automatically at a certain height in case they became unconscious. Mr Siebold could not recall if he pulled the cord on his parachute, but Mr Albury's parachute never deployed.

Dr Siebold said he taught his son, who got his pilot's licence at 16, to fly from an early age.

"Flying was the only thing Peter was ever really interested in. I flew privately - that was my recreation - so he grew up with it. It's what we did together. We would go to the airport after school," he told the Mail.

Both pilots worked for Scaled Composites, the company developing and testing the craft for Virgin Galactic, and had about 30 years of flight experience between them.

The midair disintegration of the suborbital spacecraft on Oct 31 has underscored the enormous dangers still facing commercial space.

About two dozen passengers have bowed out of the opportunity to be among the first space tourists, Virgin Galactic's Chief Executive has said.

"A few people have asked for a refund," Mr George Whitesides told the Telegraph. "I don't think that's surprising and I think what is relevant is that the vast majority have said 'don't give up, keep going, we're with you'." reported on Sunday.

chuimin@sph.com.sg