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I didn't ignore warnings, says Branson

Billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson has rejected media suggestions that he had ignored safety warnings about his Virgin Galactic spaceship before it crashed during a test flight.

One pilot died and the other was badly injured last Friday when SpaceShipTwo crashed in California's Mojave Desert. The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is leading an investigation into the cause of the accident.

Branson dismissed British news reports suggesting that one of the project's engineers had said last week the rocket was not safe and that he had been overruled because Virgin Galactic, the entrepreneur's fledgling space tourism company, was working to a tight deadline to get passenger flights up and running.

"When you have any incidents you get a lot of self-proclaimed experts coming out, a lot of whom know nothing about what they talk about," Branson told BBC TV.

"If any of our rocket engineers warned something wasn't safe to go we wouldn't go. I've spent 30 years running three airlines without incident," said Branson.

"We take safety very, very carefully. Nobody said anything to worry any of the team about going."

The NTSB said on Sunday that a function to allow the craft to re-enter the atmosphere safely had deployed early and investigators had recovered its propellant tanks and engine, indicating there was no explosion.

"What they said very clearly last night was that, despite what you would read in the British press over the weekend, there was no explosion, the fuel tanks and engine are all completely intact and it was something else that actually caused the accident," Branson said.