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Our World

July 10, 2013

San Francisco jetliner crash probe raises questions about auto speed controls

SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — Investigators are trying to understand whether automated cockpit equipment Asiana flight 214’s pilots said they were relying on to control the airliner’s speed may have contributed to the plane’s dangerously low and slow approach just before it crashed.

New details in the accident investigation that were revealed Tuesday by National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman 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.

The autothrottle was set for 157 mph and the pilots assumed it was controlling the plane’s airspeed, Hersman said. 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 it was his first time landing that type of aircraft at the San Francisco airport. And the co-pilot, identified as Lee Jeong-Min, was on his first trip as a flight instructor.

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