SEOUL, South Korea — A flight attendant for Korean Air who was kicked off a plane after macadamia nuts in an unopened package were served to an airline executive accused Korean Air and government officials on Thursday of trying to whitewash the incident.
The executive, Cho Hyun-ah, 40, a daughter of the airline’s chairman, became enraged when a flight attendant in first class served her nuts in a bag instead of on a plate on Dec. 5. She forced Korean Air Flight 86, already taxiing at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York and bound for Incheon,South Korea, to return to the gate to kick the senior steward, Park Chang-jin, off the plane.
Ms. Cho’s outburst set off public outrage, prompting the government to investigate whether her conduct had violated aviation laws. But in an interview with the South Korean television network KBS that was broadcast on Thursday, Mr. Park said that from the moment the episode was leaked to the news media, Korean Air tried to protect Ms. Cho, then a vice president of the airline, at all costs, even coercing crew members into lying to government investigators.
“They already had a script,” Mr. Park told KBS. “They concocted various excuses for why she could not help but get enraged, and told us to admit to them.”
Korean Air did not comment on the allegations of a cover-up, pending an investigation by prosecutors. The transport ministry, which questioned Mr. Park, said it would conduct an internal audit of its investigators to see if they collaborated with Korean Air executives to hush up the scandal.
Mr. Park, who as a senior flight attendant was berated by Ms. Cho over the nut service, said a higher-ranking employee suggested a statement for him to present to investigators. Then, he said, when he was being questioned by officials from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, Korean Air executives were either present or within earshot to make sure that he did not deviate from the script. Government investigators even let Korean Air executives ask questions, guiding Mr. Park to answer them with a yes or no, he said.
“I determined that I would never have a fair investigation,” said Mr. Park, explaining why he did not respond to another summons from the investigators and instead gave his acccount to the news media. In an interview on Friday with KBS, he said that Ms. Cho had made him and a junior steward who had served the nuts apologize on their knees, and that she had also hit his hand with a plastic folder of in-flight service manuals.
Last week, under snowballing public pressure, Ms. Cho’s father and Korean Air’s chairman, Cho Yang-ho, apologized for her “foolish” behavior andstripped her of all jobs in his family-run conglomerate. Prosecutors questioned Ms. Cho for 12 hours on Wednesday about allegations that she broke aviation laws by using verbal and physical violence against the crew and by forcing the plane to return to the gate.
Correction: December 18, 2014
An earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to Park Chang-jin, the flight attendant who was kicked off the plane. It is not the case that he served the nuts to Cho Hyun-ah, the airline executive; another flight attendant served them.