Dramatic Photos of Siebold’s Parachute Descent After SpaceShipTwo Broke Up

Pete Siebold under canopy approaches the desert floor. (Credit: Mark Greenberg/Virgin Galactic/NTSB)
Pete Siebold under canopy approaches the desert floor. (Credit: Mark Greenberg/Virgin Galactic/NTSB)

Mr. Greenberg is a professional photographer who was hired by Virgin Galactic to photograph the flight test of SpaceShipTwo last October while airborne from an Extra 300 chase aircraft. Greenberg’s photos captured pilot Pete Siebold’s descent to the desert floor after he was thrown free after the spaceship broke up. He was using two still cameras and operating a GoPro Hero in video mode during the accident event.

Siebold_parachute_fig77
First image of Pete Siebold under parachute. (Credit: Mark Greenberg/Virgin Galactic/NTSB)

This is the first image Greenberg captured of Siebold under parachute. The chute can barely be seen on the left of the photo. During descent, Siebold had attempted to activate his emergency oxygen supply many times but was unsuccessful in doing so. The jolt of the parachute opening had awaken him from a period of unconsciousness.

Pete Siebold under parachute with debris falling nearby. First image of Pete Siebold under parachute. (Credit: Mark Greenberg/Virgin Galactic/NTSB)
Pete Siebold under parachute with debris falling nearby. First image of Pete Siebold under parachute. (Credit: Mark Greenberg/Virgin Galactic/NTSB)

The above photo shows the pilot under parachute near the center of the frame. Additionally, some medium to large size falling debris is near the center and left hand portions of the image.

Pete Siebold under parachute. (Credit: Mark Greenberg/Virgin Galactic/NTSB)
Pete Siebold under parachute. (Credit: Mark Greenberg/Virgin Galactic/NTSB)

A good chute as Siebold descends toward the desert. The pilot reported that he had difficult seeing clearly because his eyes hurt and it appeared very bright outside.

Pete Siebold descends under parachute. (Credit: Mark Greenberg/Virgin Galactic)
Pete Siebold descends under parachute. (Credit: Mark Greenberg/Virgin Galactic/NTSB)

This is Greenberg’s first close picture of Siebold’s descent. Siebold became aware of a chase plane circling him. The SpaceShipTwo pilot was preoccupied with his injured right arm, which he could not raise. He wanted to position the parachute’s risers to get into position for a proper landing, but he couldn’t get his arm to move.

Siebold descends under parachute with his arms raised near Koehn Dry Lake. (Credit: Mark Greenberg/Virgin Galactic/NTSB)
Siebold descends under parachute with his arm raised near Koehn Dry Lake. (Credit: Mark Greenberg/Virgin Galactic/NTSB)

Siebold became concerned about a very high ground speed as he descended between about 5,000 and 2,000 feet. He was worried about being dragged through the desert by his parachute.

Pete Siebold just before landing. (Credit: Mark Greenberg/Virgin Galactic/NTSB)
Pete Siebold just before landing. (Credit: Mark Greenberg/Virgin Galactic/NTSB)

However, surface winds were calm as he neared the desert floor, allowing him to descend in a very slow spiral with no noticeable ground track. Unable to adjust the parachute’s risers, Siebold put his hands at his sides with his feet and bent knees together for landing. Unable to roll because of a lack of directional control, Siebold fell forward into a creosote bush as his parachute drifted over the top of the bush and collapsed.

Despite a bleeding, immobilized right arm, Siebold began to remove his parachute harness when felt a “clunking sound” in his chest. Fearing a possible spinal injury, he abandoned the attempt and decided not to move until rescuers arrived. He did manage to wave to Greenberg’s plane, which was circling overhead.

Siebold had landed at about 10:17 am PDT, roughly 10 minutes after SpaceShipTwo had broken up around him some 10 miles overhead. He would wait for nearly 35 more minutes before the first rescue helicopter arrived from the Mojave Air and Space Port.