CNN producer at centre of Weibo scuffle over China Eastern Airlines mystery VIP smoker

Who is one of China’s most wanted men? CNN producer wants to know

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 December, 2012, 11:27am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 December, 2012, 10:56am

Who is one of China’s most wanted men? For now, it looks as though the whole nation is looking for a mysterious VIP smoker on a China Eastern Airlines flight from Shanghai to Beijing.

The hunt started almost immediately after a CNN producer in Beijing, Steven Jiang, posted the following on his micro-blogging page on Tuesday:

“Would China Eastern Airlines tell me, who was the man allowed to break airline safety laws so blatantly? On the evening of December 2, after the MU5127 flight took off, the male passenger at 1A/B of the first class section was smoking at his seat. The crew did nothing.

"After a passenger from the first class section took a photo of the smoker, an air marshal tried unsuccessfully to grab his/her phone and delete the photo. After the plane landed, several big guys boarded the plane. They surrounded and threatened the photographer, and forced him/her to delete the photo. The passenger was allowed to leave the plane only after the photo was deleted."

Jiang’s post quickly went viral on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter-like service. The story was picked up by several major Chinese newspapers including the Southern Metropolis Daily. Jiang’s Weibo post has drawn more than 12,000 comments and 36,000 reposts as of Thursday.

Netizens’ opinions seem sharply divided over the controversy. While many support Jiang for revealing the incident and call for witnesses to step out, many others question if Jiang made the whole thing up.

“That flight has no first-class section, just business class,” said one weibo user, claiming Jiang was lying.

“It must have been some important leader from China Eastern Airlines,” commented another weibo user. “Or some Politburo member.”

Many other netizens urge Jiang to provide evidence to support his claim.

It was not clear whether Jiang himself was onboard. He declined to comment when reached him via phone on Thursday, but said he would clarify the incident soon through weibo.

Facing mounting pressures, China Eastern Airlines posted an official statement on Wednesday on its Weibo account denying the incident ever happened.

“After we checked with December 2 MU5127 ‘s certain first class passengers and the airport’s concerned parties, we’ve confirmed that nobody sat at 6A/B (described as 1A/B in the original Weibo post) on that flight. The incident described didn’t happen. After the flight arrived in Beijing on 00:32, one airport ground staff followed normal handover protocols and boarded the plane. No other person boarded the plane.”

“Who is lying?” said one netizen on Weibo, “CNN or China Eastern Airlines?”


Update: Steven Jiang said on his Weibo on December 14 that he had posted a wrong flight number in his original Weibo post. He had submitted the correct flight number to China Eastern Airlines to assist with the investigation.

Steven also said he was not on that plane and had heard the incident from a third party.