SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (AP) — The pilots of Asiana Flight 214 relied on automated cockpit equipment to control the jetliner's speed as they landed at San Francisco airport, but realized too late they were flying too low and too slow before the aircraft crashed, investigators said Tuesday.
The new details were not conclusive about the cause of Saturday's crash, but they raised potential areas of focus: Was there a mistake made in setting the automatic speed control, did it malfunction or were the pilots not fully aware of what the plane was doing?
One of the most puzzling aspects of the crash has been why the wide-body Boeing 777 jet came in far too low and slow, clipping its landing gear and then its tail on a rocky seawall just short the runway. The crash killed two of the 307 people and injured scores of others, most not seriously.
Among those injured were two flight attendants in the back of the plane, who survived despite being thrown onto the runway when the plane slammed into the seawall and the tail broke off.
National Transportation Safety Board chairman Deborah Hersman said the autothrottle was set for 157 mph and the pilots assumed it was controlling the plane's airspeed. However, the autothrottle was only "armed" or ready for activation, she said.
Hersman said the pilot at the controls, identified by Korean authorities as Lee Gang-guk, was only about halfway through his training on the Boeing 777 and was landing that type of aircraft at the San Francisco airport for the first time ever. And the co-pilot, identified as Lee Jeong-Min, was on his first trip as a flight instructor.
In the 777, turning the autothrottle on is a two-step process — first it is armed, then it is engaged, Boeing pilots said. Hersman didn't say whether the Asiana's autothrottle was engaged.