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Pilots in Asiana crash used automated speed control

SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. -- 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 slowly before the aircraft crashed, investigators said Tuesday.

The new details were not conclusive about the cause of Saturday's crash. Two of the 307 people on board were killed, and scores of others were injured. 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 chairwoman Deborah Hersman said the pilot at the controls, identified by South 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, Hersman said.

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 didn't say whether the Asiana's autothrottle was engaged, which Boeing pilots said is part of the two-step process in the 777.

A final determination on the cause of the crash is months away, and Hersman cautioned against drawing any conclusions based on the information revealed so far.

The Air Line Pilots Association, the world's largest pilots union, criticized Hersman for fueling speculation about the cause before all the facts have been determined.

Hersman said the board was following its usual pattern of trying to be transparent by releasing information as it is known.

By Tuesday afternoon, NTSB interviews with three pilots were complete and the fourth was underway.

Asiana president Yoon Young-doo arrived in San Francisco from South Korea earlier Tuesday and met with and apologized to injured passengers, family and survivors.

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