Appeals court frees 'nut rage' Korean Air heiress

2015-05-22 12:06
Cho Hyun-Ah. (Jung Yeon-Je, AFP)

Cho Hyun-Ah. (Jung Yeon-Je, AFP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Seoul - The former Korean Air executive jailed for disrupting a flight in a rage over macadamia nuts walked free Friday when a South Korean appeals court overturned her conviction for violating aviation safety laws.

The High Court in Seoul ruled that Cho Hyun-Ah, who had been in jail since her arrest in December, was not guilty of the most serious charge of altering an aircraft's route while in flight.

That overturned the verdict of a lower district court, which had jailed Cho for one year in February.

"The accused had no intention of hampering the safe operation of the plane," High Court judge Kim Sang-Hwan said, handing down a reduced sentence of 10 months, suspended for two years.

Apology to those 'hurt'

After the hearing, Cho, aged 40, changed out of her prison clothes and left the court, dressed in black coat and wearing heavy dark-rimmed glasses.

Mobbed by reporters outside, Cho, walking with her head bowed, was shielded by a small group of minders who whisked her away to a waiting black sedan.

One of her lawyers offered Cho's apologies to "all those who have been hurt by this incident".

The eldest daughter of the airline's chairman, Cho was a Korean Air (KAL) vice president in charge of in-flight service at the time of her 5 December "nut rage" meltdown on board a Seoul-bound KAL flight that had just left the gate in New York.

Enraged at cabin crew

As the plane was taxiing to the runway, Cho, sitting in first class, became enraged when a flight attendant served her some nuts in a bag, rather than on a plate.

She lambasted the chief steward over the behaviour of his cabin crew and then ordered the plane back to the gate so he could be ejected.

In her original trial, the district court determined that an aircraft was "in flight" from the moment it began to move, and therefore Cho had violated aviation safety laws by illegally changing the plane's route.

But the High Court overturned that decision, ruling that the return to the gate "did not constitute a change" of flight path.

'Modest' safety threat

While describing the threat Cho's actions had presented to the safety and security of the aircraft as "modest", the court upheld her conviction for hampering the plane's operations and violence against the cabin crew.

Chief steward Park Chang-Jin had testified that Cho had made him kneel and beg for forgiveness while jabbing him with a service manual.

The flight attendant who served the now infamous nuts has since filed a civil lawsuit, alleging Cho attacked, threatened and screamed obscenities and then pressured her to cover up the incident by lying to government regulators.

Many South Koreans saw Cho's behaviour as emblematic of a generation of spoilt and arrogant offspring of owners of the giant family-run conglomerates, or "chaebols", that dominate the national economy.

The "nut rage" case invited international ridicule and Cho was criticised at home for embarrassing the country and damaging its image.

A 'tainted' life

At the same time, some commentators had suggested the original one-year custodial term was harsh given that Cho had already been publicly humiliated and forced to resign her post with the airline.

In deciding on a sentence, Judge Kim said the court had taken into account that Cho had two-year-old twins at home, and no past criminal record.

"She knows she has to live the rest of her life tainted by this incident," he added.

The initial reaction among South Korean Twitter users was largely critical of the High Court's decision, which some saw as another example of privilege trumping illegal behaviour.

"Does anyone think an ordinary person would have won a suspended sentence? This is why people don't trust the justice system," tweeted @sosa9053.

Read more on:    south korea  |  aviation

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


WATCH: Man films himself going down water slide upside down as things go very wrong…

What is at first an exciting tummy-turning adventure stunt, quickly turns into a scarily bad idea caught on camera. Take a look:


You won't want to miss...

WATCH: Conor McGregor: Notorious the trailer
Best date night restaurants in South Africa
WATCH: Ryan Reynolds offers fans a free tattoo in new Deadpool 2 teaser
Should you date your co-worker?
Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.