KAL raided over nutty flight delay

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KAL raided over nutty flight delay

Korean Air’s Cho Hyun-ah, who forced a plane to go back to a gate at New York’s JFK Airport because she was served macadamia nuts in a bag, has become a punch line around the world, even ending up on the Ridiculist of CNN anchor Anderson Cooper.

Now she’s becoming a punching bag for Koreans who like to take on arrogant chaebol families. The Ministry of Justice has gotten involved in the brouhaha, as has the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport.

Prosecutors say they will even confiscate the flight data recorder and black box from the plane used on Flight KE086 from New York to Incheon last Friday.

Prosecutors raided the headquarters of Korean Air on Thursday following a complaint filed by the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy on Wednesday.

The civic group said Cho, who gave up her title as a vice president after the incident but remains an executive of the group and heads the airline’s hotel business, violated international aviation security law.

Cho, 40, is the first daughter of Hanjin Group Chairman and KAL CEO Cho Yang-ho.

The civic group also complained that Cho went overboard by ordering a cabin manager off the plane in New York.

The Western District Prosecutors’ Office said it sent 10 investigators to the company’s headquarters in Gonghang-dong, western Seoul, and to the company’s office at Incheon International Airport around 2:40 p.m. and obtained evidence related to the case.

“The reason we made such a quick move is because the public is highly interested in the case and there is a possibility of manipulation of evidence,” said a spokesman for the prosecution.

“We will review the evidence obtained to decide whether we should summon Cho.”

At around the same time, the Transport Ministry sent a request to Cho to come in for questioning on Friday morning over the macadamia spat.

The ministry said it will question the 40-year-old by the end of this week based on interviews it has already done with crew and passengers on the flight. It is also looking into violations of aviation law.

Cho allegedly got upset at a flight attendant in the plane’s First Class Cabin for not serving her macadamia nuts in a dish or bowl, which Cho said was demanded in the service manual. Cho reportedly called the cabin manager and asked her to check the service manual.

But the manager didn’t know the password to unlock the tablet computer on which the manual was stored, so Cho ordered her off the plane.

The departure of KE086 was delayed for 16 minutes and the arrival time at Incheon was delayed by 11 minutes, the ministry said.

“We notified Cho to visit us at 10 a.m. [Friday], but she replied through the company that she can’t heed the call,” said Lee Kwang-hee, spokesman of the Transport Ministry. “The company said Cho will cooperate with the ministry’s investigation. But since it is necessary to question Cho in person, we will request she come to see us as soon as possible.”

The questioning will likely be held at the aviation safety supervision office at Gimpo International Airport, Lee added.

Under the law, the ministry can levy a 5 million won fine if Cho refuses to appear without a justifiable reason.

KAL said later on Thursday that Cho would come in for questioning Friday at 3 p.m.

The ministry said it has formed a team of eight officials to investigate the case. It has already interviewed 10 people who were on the flight, including the cabin crew manager who was ejected from the plane, the captain and other crew since Monday.

“Since some testimonies from the crew vary, we decided we needed to speak to passengers,” Lee said. “We have requested the company to hand over the passenger list and passengers’ phone numbers.”

The ministry said it will carefully check whether Cho violated any laws related to aviation security. “Since the Seoul Western District Prosecutors’ Office is also looking into the case, we will also cooperate with them.”

The labor union of Korean Air urged Cho Thursday to apologize to the company’s employees and demanded a meeting with company President Ji Chang-hoon to discuss employees’ working conditions.

“Forcing the cabin crew head to get out of the plane and pointing out faulty service by the crew in front of passengers were violations of human rights,” the union said in a statement sent to the company on Wednesday night.

“Since she humiliated employees who have been working hard and made people around the world ridicule them [crew], we want Cho to make an apology.”

BY KWON SANG-SOO [sakwon80@joongang.co.kr]

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