Nut rage woman denies violating air safety

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The former Korean Air executive infamous for an inflight tantrum over macadamia nuts 
has pleaded not guilty to violating aviation safety law and hindering a government investigation.

Lawyers for Cho Hyun-ah did not dispute the major elements of the prosecutor’s account of events on December 5 when Cho’s behaviour resulted in a Korean Air jet returning to the gate. They are focusing on a technical rebuttal.

Cho spent most of the first day of her trial with her head lowered and hair covering her face. She declined to make any comments when invited to do so by a judge. Cho’s lawyer, Yu Seung-nam, said she had been “beaten” by the media.

Cho, the daughter of Korean Air’s chairman, achieved worldwide notoriety by kicking the chief flight attendant off the December 5 flight after being offered macadamia nuts in a bag, instead of on a dish, by another crew member. At the time, Cho was vice president of cabin service at the airline.

The “nut rage” caused uproar in South Korea, touching a nerve in a country where the economy is dominated by family-run conglomerates known as chaebol that often act above the law.

Cho has been in police custody since December 30 and could face up to 15 years in prison if found guilty of all four charges.

Prosecutors accused her of forcing a flight to change its route, which carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years. The other charges are the use of violence against flight crew, hindering a government probe and forcing the purser off the plane.

Cho’s lawyer told the court the flight had moved only 17 yards from the gate at New York’s John F Kennedy airport before it returned, which did not amount to a forced change of route.

Cho admitted using violence against one flight attendant in first class by pushing her shoulder and throwing an object at her, but denied she poked the hands of the chief flight attendant with a book. Her lawyer argued that those acts did not amount to threatening safety on the flight.

The trial continues.