"That he survived a descent of 50,000 feet is pretty amazing," a veteran pilot says. That's a fall of about 10 miles.
His story is one in a long line of odds-defying feats of survival by elite test pilots, who by definition are unbelievable badasses. Much of the aerospace history of which these men are part took place in the deserts of Nevada and Southern California.
From the Los Angeles Times feature on Siebold:
The Virgin Galactic rocket plane had just broken the sound barrier and was shooting toward the heavens when it began disintegrating, battered by powerful aerodynamic forces.
The pilots were strapped into their seats as entire pieces were torn from SpaceShipTwo. At more than 10 miles high, with fingers no doubt numb from the cold, Peter Siebold somehow escaped from the hurtling wreckage.
Siebold, who had been flying Virgin Galactic's spaceships for a decade, had to rely on his experience and his instincts. He had a parachute but no spacesuit to protect him from the lethal environment as he plunged toward Earth at close to the speed of a bullet.
At almost twice the height of Mt. Everest, the air is dangerously thin and the temperature is about 70 degrees below zero. It was a real world case of survival in the face of disaster, like the movie "Gravity."
Siebold's co-pilot Michael Alsbury (39) was found dead, strapped into his seat in the wreckage. Between the two of them, Siebold and Alsbury had racked up some thirty years of experience, and thousands of hours of flight time.
Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo rocket plane disintegrated in mid-air after two tail stabilizers prematurely extended, federal investigators have said. The discovery shifted the focus of the probe into the fatal crash away from the craft's rocket motor, as some analysts had originally suggested.
Robert Pearlman at Collectspace.com has more on the two pilots, and what is known about the crash.
Statements from Virgin Galactic on the accident are here.
Previously on Boing Boing:
• Virgin Galactic test flight crashes, one reported dead
• What happened to Virgin Galactic space plane