LOS ANGELES -- The surviving pilot of the Virgin Galactic spaceship that crashed last month unbuckled himself and was thrown free from the disintegrating craft, investigators said Wednesday.
Peter Siebold told them he did not know that his co-pilot had prematurely unlocked a key system on the spaceship, which broke up over California's Mojave Desert on October 31.
The co-pilot, Michael Alsbury, died in the accident shortly after mistakenly unlocking a so-called "feathering" system designed to slow the aircraft during re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere.
The SpaceShipTwo broke up a few seconds after being dropped from its mothership, the WhiteKnightTwo, which had carried it up to an altitude of about 45,000 feet.
"According to the pilot, he was unaware that the feather system had been unlocked early by the co-pilot," the National Transportation Safety Board said in an update on its investigation.
Branson, who rushed to the Mojave Desert within hours of the crash, has vowed to press on with his dream.
"While this has been a tragic setback, we are moving forward and will do so deliberately and with determination," his company said. "We owe it to all of those who have risked and given so much to stay the course and deliver on the promise of creating the first commercial spaceline."
The crash was the second disaster to rock the private sector space industry in the same week. An Antares rocket carrying supplies to the International Space Station exploded after takeoff in Virginia a few days previously.
By Michael Thurston
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2014