The space plane went down on Friday after a test flight

By K.c. Blumm
Updated October 31, 2014 03:10 PM
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John Angelillo/Landov

A spaceship that is part of billionaire Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic crashed during a test flight Friday.

The SpaceShip Two rocket plane “suffered a serious anomaly resulting in the loss [of the vehicle],” Virgin Galactic said in a Tweet.

Two people were in the plane during the morning test flight over the Mojave Air and Space Port in California.

“One of the occupants, who was the pilot, was able to eject and parachute out,” Kern County Sheriff Department spokesman Ray Pruitt tells PEOPLE. Deputies located the injured man after arriving at the crash site, 20 miles northeast of the city of Mojave, shortly after 10 a.m., and he was airlifted to a nearby hospital with moderate to major injuries.

“The second occupant of the aircraft was fatally injured,” Pruitt says. “His body was located near one of the debris fields.”

Photographer Ken Brown, who was covering the test flight, told NBC News that he saw a midflight explosion and later found debris scattered across the desert.

The Associated Press reports that the incident happened after the spacecraft was released from the plane that carried it to high altitude. SpaceShip Two ignited its rocket motor and then exploded shortly before 10 a.m.

Virgin Galactic announced in May that it was changing the fuel used in the spacecraft’s hybrid rocket motor. The fuel had been used in ground tests but had not been fired in flight.

Branson said on The Late Show last month that he planned to be on his company’s first commercial space flight in “February or March of next year.”

He Tweeted shortly after Friday’s crash that he was “flying to Mojave immediately to be with the team.”

More than 700 people, including Ashton Kutcher, Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio and Lance Bass have reportedly paid up to $250,000 for a two-and-a-half-hour ride into space on the rocket plane.

With reporting by JOHNNY DODD

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