Korean Air heiress pleads for mercy

Cho Hyun-ah, former vice president of Korean Air, asked an appellate court Wednesday to reverse a district court's ruling that she violated a law banning passengers from forcing crewmembers to deviate from a flight route.

Cho, however, said she "would like to apologise to victims. I regret my wrongdoings and ask for clemency," as the judges gave her an opportunity to express her feelings.

During the first trial hearing of the so-called "nut rage" appeal case at Seoul High Court, Cho's attorney reiterated an earlier argument that air carriers' movement on landing strips is not included in the flight route under the current law.

The 40-year-old de facto heiress of Korean Air was found to have ordered crewmembers of a flight from New York to Seoul on Dec. 5, 2014, that was taxiing to return to the airport gate at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Cho's attorney claimed the nation's aviation-related laws have ambiguous stipulations on the flight route ― whether or not the landing routes at airports are interpreted as a flight route.

The attorney further asserted that a flight's movement of 20 meters on land is not supervised under aviation security law, asking for the court's mercy.

In February, Seoul Seobu District Court found her guilty on several counts ― forcing flight route deviation, obstructing aviation safety and assaulting two cabin crewmembers physically and verbally.

The court, however, dismissed the charges raised by the prosecution that Cho obstructed the duties of Korean Air executives, employees and inspectors from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transportation immediately after the incident.

Prosecutors said Cho tried to destroy evidence of her behaviour in the plane by abusing her authority as the vice president.

Cho has been in prison for more than 90 days since she was taken into custody on Dec. 30.

Park Chang-jin, the cabin manager who was deplaned by Cho, backed up several of the charges during his testimony at the district court trials. Cho was reportedly dissatisfied with the way Park's junior attendant served her macadamia nuts ― in a bag and not on a plate.

Meanwhile, the district court also handed down a jail term of eight months to a Korean Air executive director. In addition, a Transportation Ministry official was given a suspended prison term of six months, with probation for one year.