Korean prosecutors questioned Korean Air heiress and former senior executive Cho Hyun-Ah on Wednesday over over the “nut rage” incident aboard a plane this month, which sparked a national uproar.
The 40-year-old daughter of the airline’s chief executive forced the chief cabin crew member off a New York-Seoul flight and compelled the taxiing plane to return to the gate after she took exception to being served macadamia nuts she had not asked for — and in a bag, not a bowl.
“I’m sorry,” Cho said feebly as she was mobbed by journalists and photographers when she appeared at the Seoul Western Prosecutors’ Office, keeping her head low and her face covered with shoulder-length hair.
A transportation ministry investigation found that Cho breached aviation safety laws when she screamed and hurled abuse at a flight attendant and the chief purser, Park Chang-Jin, during the “nut rage” incident on December 5.
Prosecutors will focus on whether she forced the purser off the flight, ordered the pilot to return the plane to the gate and whether she used violence against the two crew members, according to the Yonhap news agency.
Park has claimed that Cho pushed him into the cockpit door and jabbed him with a service manual.
She has denied reports she made him and the flight attendant kneel and beg her forgiveness, but another passenger in first class has confirmed she forced both to their knees.
Cho — one of three children of Korean Air chief executive Cho Yang-Ho, who is also the patriarch of business conglomerate Hanjin Group — has publicly apologised and resigned from all her posts at the family-run group.
Prosecutors will also investigate whether the airline’s executives coerced cabin crew to give false testimony to government inspectors to protect Cho.
“There are concerns over evidence tampering, so we plan to stop this by filing for an arrest warrant,” a prosecutor was quoted as saying by Chosun Ilbo daily.
The transportation ministry said Tuesday it would sanction Korean Air with a flight ban, most likely on the New York-Seoul route, that could last for up to a month or with fines of up to $2 million.
It also asked prosecution authorities to open a criminal probe into the incident.