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Investigation of deadly Virgin Galactic spaceship crash begins in Mojave Desert; pilots ID'd

Wreckage lies near the site where a Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo, crashed in Mojave, Calif., on Friday.
Wreckage lies near the site where a Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo, crashed in Mojave, Calif., on Friday.
Ringo H.W. Chiu/AP

Update 4:59 p.m. Surviving spaceship pilot identified, described as 'alert' 

The injured test pilot who survived the destruction of Virgin Galactic's prototype space tourism rocket is described as alert and talking with his family and doctors.

Word about the condition of Peter Siebold came Saturday in a statement from his employer, Scale Composites, the Mojave, California, company developing SpaceShipTwo for Virgin Galactic.

Scaled Composites says Siebold, its director of flight operations, was serving as pilot during Friday's ill-fated test flight high over the Mojave Desert.

Co-pilot Michael Alsbury was killed.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the accident.

Update 12:22 p.m. Pilot killed in space tourism crash identified

California authorities have identified the pilot killed during a test flight of Virgin Galactic's prototype space tourism rocket over the Mojave Desert.

Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood says the pilot was 39-year-old Michael Tyner Alsbury of Tehachapi, California.

Alsbury worked for Scaled Composites, the company developing the spaceship for billionaire Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic space tourism company.

The pilot who survived Friday's crash has not been identified.

AP

12:11 p.m. More than a dozen investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board are on the ground in California's Mojave Desert to find out why a manned spaceship crashed on Friday.

"This was a test flight, and test flights are typically very well-documented in terms of data," Christopher Hart, acting chairman of the NTSB, told reporters during a press conference today near the crash site. "We may have lots of evidence that will help us with the investigative process."

Hart added that investigators will begin interviewing witnesses who saw the accident that left the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo in pieces. One pilot died, and another was injured Friday when the ship malfunctioned during a test flight.

At a separate press conference, Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson said he is committed to uncovering the cause of the crash.

"We owe it to our test pilots to find out exactly what went wrong. And once we find out what went wrong, if we can overcome it, we'll make absolutely certain that the dream lives on," Branson said, referring to aspirations for commercial space travel.

Branson, who said he had never met the pilot who died, deferred to NTSB officials and did not provide additional details about the accident.

Hart is expected to provide another update at a press conference later today.

Hansi Lo Wang/NPR