MOJAVE (CBSLA.com) — The pilot killed during a test flight of Virgin Galactic’s prototype space tourism rocket over the Mojave Desert on Friday was identified Saturday as a 39-year-old Tehachapi man.
Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said Michael Tyner Alsbury was killed in Friday’s explosion and crash.
Alsbury worked for Scaled Composites, the company developing the spaceship for billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic space tourism company. His body was found in the wreckage, authorities said, while a second pilot, Peter Siebold, was seriously injured after parachuting away from vehicle.
Seibold was said to be alert, and talking to his family and doctors on Saturday.
Photos of the crash taken by Kenneth Brown appear to show the rocket exploding in midair after separating from the plane that carried it to 50,000 feet.
Also Saturday, KCAL9’s Greg Mills visited Tehachapi, about 20 miles from the Mojave airport when the test flights took place. Family and friends gathered Saturday at the home where Alsbury lived with his wife and two children.
“We was a very humble guy, very modest, and didn’t brag about what he did,” said Lou Zaninovich, who lived across the street from the Alsbury family for about seven years.
Zaninovich said he and his wife were having a tough time dealing with Alsbury’s death.
Virgin Galactic owner Richard Branson came to the airport north of Lancaster on Saturday.
“Our thoughts remain with the families of the brave, skilled pilots and all those who have been affected by this tragedy,” said Branson, who said he did not know Alsbury.
Branson made it clear that the effort to take civilians into space did not end with the fatal crash.
“All 400 engineers who work here, and I think most people in the world, would love to see the dream living on,” he said.
Branson met with employees in Mojave to reassure them, but he gave no timetable on when his company can resume its quest to take civilians into space.