Heather Cho, daughter of chairman of Korean Air Lines, Cho Yang-ho, is surrounded by media as she leaves for a detention facility in Seoul. Photo by Kim Hong-Ji, Reuters
SEOUL - A South Korean court on Tuesday ordered that a former Korean Air Lines executive be detained for delaying a flight following an outburst over the way she was served nuts, in a case that prompted both outrage and ridicule.
Heather Cho, the daughter of the airline's chairman and head of in-flight service before she resigned after the incident, had demanded the chief steward be removed from the flight at John F. Kennedy airport in New York on Dec. 5 for serving macadamia nuts in a bag, not a dish.
The court's decision late on Tuesday comes after local prosecutors last week sought a detention warrant for Cho, 40, who faces charges of violating the aviation safety law.
"The necessity for detention is recognized as the case is grave and there has been an attempt to systematically cover up charges from the beginning," Lee Kwang-woo, a judge at the Seoul Western District Court who handles media affairs, said in a text message.
In what media have dubbed the "nut rage" incident, the Airbus A380 jet, which had pushed back from its gate, returned for the chief attendant to disembark. The flight arrived in Incheon, near Seoul, 11 minutes late.
On her way to a detention facility from the prosecutors' office late on Tuesday, Cho was flanked by prosecution officials and did not respond to questions from media, only saying "sorry" several times, her eyes closed and her head bowed.
A probe by South Korea's Transport Ministry concluded that Cho abused flight attendants in the incident, and that airline officials may have tried to cover up the episode.
The ministry came under fire after revelations that some of its officials leaked information to the company and committed other misconduct during the investigation. The ministry said on Monday it would penalise eight officials involved in the case, one of whom was detained on Friday.
Public outrage over the case grew when Korean Air initially issued what many people took to be a half-hearted apology that appeared to rationalise Cho's conduct in the face of what it said was inadequate performance by the cabin crew.
Cho's case has aggravated public resentment towards the country's powerful family-run conglomerates, called chaebol, stirred by their dominance of the economy and a widening wealth gap in society.
Heather Cho is the eldest of Korean Air chairman Cho Yang-ho's three children. Her siblings are also executives with the airline.