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KAL heiress treated crew like 'feudal slaves': chief purser

Monday, February 2, 2015 - 19:23
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A Korean Air chief purser forced off a plane by airline heiress Cho Hyun-Ah in a notorious "nut rage" incident testified at her trial Monday that she treated flight crew like "feudal slaves".

[SEOUL] A Korean Air chief purser forced off a plane by airline heiress Cho Hyun-Ah in a notorious "nut rage" incident testified at her trial Monday that she treated flight crew like "feudal slaves".

Ms Cho faces a maximum 10-year sentence if convicted of air safety violations.

They stem from the incident in December when she allegedly forced the chief purser to leave a New York-Seoul flight before it took off, compelling the taxiing plane to return to the gate so he could disembark.

The 40-year-old, who was a KAL vice president at the time, took exception to being served macadamia nuts for which she had not asked - and in a bag, not a bowl. The incident sparked public outrage in South Korea.

Ms Cho could also face another five years in jail on charges of coercing staff to give false testimony and interfering in the execution of their duty.

Chief purser Park Chang-Jin accused Ms Cho of treating flight attendants like "feudal slaves" and urged her to reflect sincerely on her "irrational and senseless" conduct.

"I think Cho did not show an ounce of conscience, treating powerless people like myself as feudal slaves and forcing us to sacrifice unilaterally," he said in a tearful voice.

"Like a beast that found its prey gritting its teeth, she yelled and became violent, never listening to what I said," he said.

Mr Park has said Ms Cho made him kneel and beg for forgiveness while jabbing him with a service manual.

Ms Cho, the eldest daughter of Korean Air chief Cho Yang-Ho, has been in custody since December 30.

KAL chief Cho Yang-Ho has said no crew members would lose their jobs over the incident or subsequent investigations.

But Mr Park, who returned to work on Sunday, expressed concern about possible damage to his career - saying he had been treated like an "expendable".

The incident was seen as emblematic of a generation of spoilt and arrogant offspring of owners of the giant family-run conglomerates, or "chaebols," that dominate the economy.

The story hit international headlines and was seen as something of a national embarrassment, with South Korean media commentators suggesting Cho had shamed the country.

A company executive has also been indicted for evidence-tampering and a transport ministry official is accused of leaking details of a government probe into the case.

The transport ministry plans to sanction KAL with a limited flight route ban that could last for up to a month, or fines of up to US$2 million

AFP