The pilot who miraculously parachuted to safety after Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo disintegrated over the Mojave Desert last year felt as though something was trying to rip his helmet off as he fell to the ground.
Peter Siebold’s interview was included in a release today by National Transportation Safety Board. Following a nine month investigation, the agency shared their findings in the October 31, 2014 accident, saying it was caused by "premature repositioning" of the spacecraft's tail wings.
The two tail wings of the spaceship are supposed to move when the vehicle hits a certain speed -- a process known as "feathering." The co-pilot unlocked the feather early at a speed of Mach 0.8 instead of the intended speed of 1.4, triggering what Investigator in Charge Lorenda Ward called "catastrophic structural failure."
While co-pilot Michael Alsbury died in the crash, Siebold was able to share his harrowing story of survival with investigators, beginning at the moment of the accident when he recalled experiencing the jolt of a "very violent, large pitch-up with high G’s and grunting noises."
As the cabin tore apart, Siebold recalled hearing what sounded like "paper fluttering in the wind."
When Siebold was outside the spacecraft, he told investigators he remembers hearing a high frequency whistling noise and realized his helmet and mask were twisted. Opening his eyes, he saw the desert below as he continued to fall in a stabilized position.
Since SpaceShipTwo was a test flight, there was a great deal of data recorded by Virgin Galactic and its partner, Scaled Composites, which investigators were able to analyze as a part of their investigation.
Though the executive summary, findings and probable cause were released today by the NTSB, the full 200-page report will not be released for a couple more weeks.
A statement from Scaled Composites said the company made changes following the accident to "further enhance safety."
“Our business is to design prototype, cutting-edge aircraft. Safety has always been a critical component of Scaled’s culture and, as the NTSB noted today, our pilots were experienced and well-trained," a statement from the company said. "We extensively supported the NTSB’s investigation and appreciate all of its work to make the industry safer."