A former Korean Air executive is found guilty of violating aviation law after interrupting a flight over nuts
She has been sentenced to one year in jail for all charges
It started with a first-class aviation executive throwing a fit on a flight over her nuts.
It ended Thursday with that former executive sentenced to jail for one year.
Heather Cho was working for Korean Air on December 5 when, as a first-class passenger on an international flight, an attendant served her macadamia nuts in a bag. Cho wanted them on a plate and demanded that the plane go back to the gate at New York’s JFK airport so a crew member could be kicked off the flight.
A South Korean judge said that her actions threatened the development of the aviation industry and inconvenienced passengers, and ruled that she violated aviation law, changed a flight path and interfered with operations.
Cho had the chief steward removed from the flight after the plane had left the gate.
The flight arrived 11 minutes behind schedule.
A year in jail may seem just as extreme as freaking out over nuts. But the flight attendant testified that she was pressured by another Korean Air manager to keep quiet about Cho’s behavior. Prosecutors said during her trial that there was a systematic attempt to cover up the incident.
The judge blasted Cho for her conduct, saying that she had used the plane as if it were her personal car and that as a passenger, she could not override crew members and give orders during a flight.
The case, dubbed “nut rage,” gripped South Korea, especially because Cho is the Korean Air chairman’s daughter.
There is growing resentment over the perceived privileges and nepotism for the families that control the country’s top companies.
Cho resigned as vice president at the company a few days after the incident and publicly apologized, saying she accepted “full responsibility.”
On Thursday, she appeared in court wearing a green prison uniform. She gazed downward. Her hair hung in her face.
“I don’t know how to find forgiveness,” she said.
Park Chang-jin, the chief steward who was booted from the flight, has said the former executive treated crew members like “feudal slaves.”
Cover-up of nuts scandal
Details of Cho’s behavior on the flight have emerged. Park and Kim Do Hee, the flight attendant who served the nuts, had knelt in front of Cho in apology. Kim testified that Cho berated them about the service, and later shoved and cursed her.
When the flight arrived in Korea, the flight attendant said another airline manager, Yeo Woon-jin, pressured her not to talk to investigators about Cho’s physically abusing her and Park.
Yeo was found guilty of interfering with an investigation.
Airline chairman says he’s sorry
Following public fury over the December incident, Korean Air chairman Cho Yang-ho apologized to the flight attendants and the public.
Asked in court in January if he knew that his daughter mistreated employees, he said, “I just heard that she’s strict with her workers.”
CNN’s KJ Kwon contributed to this report.