January 08, 2015 13:04
Prosecutors on Wednesday indicted Korean Air heiress Cho Hyun-ah on charges of obstructing aviation safety after she ordered a purser off a Korean Air flight in a tantrum over in-flight service.
A Korean Air executive surnamed Yeo was also indicted on charges of destroying evidence and obstructing investigations, as was an aviation inspector at the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport on charges of divulging classified information to airline executives.
The pilot of the flight, however, escaped indictment. A prosecution spokesman said, "The pilot simply followed orders according to the carrier's power hierarchy."
The pilot was informed by the purser, Park Chang-jin, that he needed to turn the aircraft back to the boarding gate due to an "emergency in the cabin," according to prosecutors, after Cho shouted at and shoved Park for failing to find the manual regarding how nuts are to be served in first class.
Park used the in-flight communication system to talk to the pilot as Cho watched, and the pilot stopped the plane without asking any questions.
But prosecutors said accounts vary about the time the pilot talked to Park again to assess the situation further.
At the time, the pilot claims not to have known that the incident involved Cho. He told prosecutors that he turned the plane back to the boarding gate after deciding it would be too dangerous to remain on the runway to further assess the situation. Only then did he call the purser back to ask what the problem was and found out that Cho had given the order.
But the purser claims he called the pilot again soon after the first call and explained Cho had given the order and explained why.
Prosecutors say the flight communication records appear to support the purser's version.
"The pilot as well as the purser knew Cho was on the plane and had been assigned to the flight after being pulled from another," the prosecution spokesman said. "All the circumstantial evidence suggests he knew that Cho gave the order to return to the boarding gate and felt pressured to obey it, which makes it impossible to hold him accountable."
Meanwhile, prosecutors said Cho was briefed on Korean Air's attempts to destroy evidence that could be held against her, and encouraged its destruction indirectly by chiding staff for failing to contain the incident.
Cho told Yeo when the government probe of the incident started on Dec. 8 that she had done nothing wrong and claimed the purser was incompetent and deserved to be disciplined. Cho sent a text to Yeo telling him to take care of the incident "well."
Yeo responded, "I will do my best to ensure this does not involve any legal violations."
Yeo is alleged to have changed his computer when prosecutors searched the carrier's headquarters last month.
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