Billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson vowed on Saturday to find out what caused his space tourism company's passenger spaceship to crash during a test flight in California, killing one pilot and injuring the other, but expressed a desire to press on with the dream of commercial space flight.
U.S. investigators have indicated the powered test flight of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo on Friday was well recorded, giving them an abundance of information to help determine what caused it to crash and spread debris over a 5-mile (8 km) swath of the Mojave Desert, 95 miles (150 km) north of Los Angeles.
Branson arrived in the Mojave Desert to meet his Virgin Galactic team and federal officials who were opening their investigation into the accident, the second in less than a week involving a commercial space company.
"We owe it to our pilots to find out exactly what went wrong," Branson said during a news conference in Mojave. "If we can overcome it, we will make absolutely certain that the dream lives on," he said.
Michael Alsbury, 39, has been identified as the co-pilot who died in the crash of Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo, and the surviving pilot is Peter Siebold, 43.
Alsbury, who police said was found dead in the aircraft and who resided in Tehachapi, California, was a project engineer and test pilot at Scaled Composites, a Northrop Grumman Corp. subsidiary that built and designed the spacecraft for Virgin Galactic.
Alsbury was flying for the ninth time aboard SpaceShipTwo, including serving as the co-pilot on its first rocket-powered test flight on April 29, 2013, according to his biography on the company's website.
Siebold parachuted from SpaceShipTwo and was found with serious injuries by rescuers, who took him by helicopter to Antelope Valley Hospital, the Kern County Sheriff's Office said in a statement.
He was alert and talking with his family and doctors on Saturday, Scaled Composites said in a statement, but National Transportation Safety Board acting chairman Christopher Hart said his agency's investigators have not yet interviewed Siebold at the advice of his doctors.
An NTSB team arrived at the crash site on Saturday to begin piecing together what led to the crash.
"We are here to investigate this accident, while we are here investigating there is nothing that stops this operation from continuing flying," Hart said.