Nut-rage heiress grilled for more than 12 hours

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Nut-rage heiress grilled for more than 12 hours

Cho Hyun-ah, the Korean Air heiress who went ballistic over a bag of nuts in first class and delayed a New York-Seoul flight by 11 minutes, was released Thursday morning after more than 12 hours of questioning by prosecutors.

Prosecutors grilled Cho, the former vice president of Korean Air, on what actually happened on the tarmac of John F. Kennedy International Airport, whether she committed any acts of physical violence against the flight crew, whether she ordered the flight to turn back to the gate, and if she was behind the airline trying to cover up the incident afterward.

Leaving the prosecutors’ office after the marathon questioning session at 2:15 a.m. Thursday, a haggard Cho and her attorney headed back to the car without saying a word as journalists bombarded them with questions.

The Seoul Western District Prosecutors’ Office did not arrest Cho for violating the Aviation Safety Act. Sources said Cho wasn’t arrested because she did not admit to all the allegations against her and there is conflicting evidence. But prosecutors said they have concluded Cho was technically a mere passenger on the plane with no official authority.

Prosecutors said they requested a search warrant to seize telephone records of Cho and other Korean Air personnel suspected of trying to downplay the incident after it became an international embarrassment for the company. They already concluded that KAL attempted to destroy evidence.

The 40-year-old daughter of the chairman and CEO of Hanjin Group, which owns Korean Air Lines, came under fire for delaying a flight on Dec. 5 from New York to Incheon after throwing a fit after macadamia nuts were served in a bag instead of in a bowl in first class.

According to a witness and the head of the cabin service, Cho was violent toward a flight attendant during her in-flight rage, in which she ordered the plane back to the gate at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport to eject the chief steward.

Park Chang-jin, the head of the cabin crew who was kicked off the flight, showed a written apology from Cho in an interview with KBS Wednesday evening.

The short note was written on a scrap piece of paper apparently torn from a small pocketbook. The folded note was left in the crack of the front door of his home.

It read: “Chief Steward Park Chang-jin. I wanted to meet you in person and apologize in person, but I left without being able to meet you. Sorry. From Cho Hyun-ah.”

“I thought [Cho] was going to apologize with at least a fraction of sincerity,” said Park. But after he received the note, he said, he was “even more mortified.”

“Rather than a sincere apology, this was not a well-prepared apology at all, and not a single line in the note had any consideration for me ... That person has not changed in the least.”

Park added that an executive of the airline was allowed to attend his first questioning by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport on Dec. 8.

He added that Korean Air informed him he would be questioned by the ministry and pressured him to answer questions as instructed by KAL.

Park told prosecutors that Cho jabbed his hand with an in-flight manual.

After mounting criticism of its investigation into the nut-rage scandal, the Transport Ministry launched an internal inspection on Thursday on how it conducted its questioning.

BY SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]




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