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‘Ground control was frantic.’ 20,000 bees colonize plane engine in South Africa, photos show

As many as 20,000 bees swarmed into the engine of a Mango Airlines plane at King Shaka International Airport in Durban, South Africa, in just 25 minutes. They had to be removed by two beekeepers, delaying the flight, according to the airline.
As many as 20,000 bees swarmed into the engine of a Mango Airlines plane at King Shaka International Airport in Durban, South Africa, in just 25 minutes. They had to be removed by two beekeepers, delaying the flight, according to the airline. Screenshot from News24

Airlines have embarrassed themselves in the last year by kicking — or dragging — passengers off flights. But in this case, removing unwanted passengers was definitely warranted.

That’s because the Mango Airlines plane had thousands and thousands of bees inside its engine on Sunday, according to a Tweet from the South African budget carrier. The airline said the swarming insects had “started building a nest.”

The plane was at the King Shaka International Airport in the coastal city of Durban — and the bee nightmare on that one plane meant three scheduled flights were delayed on the airline, which flies between major cities in South Africa and to Zanzibar.

Apparently the bees made a quick job of moving in: Sergio dos Santos, a spokesperson for the airline, said bees commandeered the passenger plane’s engine in the span of just 25 minutes, News24 reports. There were around 20,000 bees total, according to the South African TV station.

The airline wrote on Twitter that it brought in two beekeepers — clad in white protective suits — to extract the bees from the aircraft’s engine.

One of the bee-removers, Melvyn Dawson, said the “hectic” task they faced was even more difficult because of aviation rules that barred the use of the beekeepers’ own tools, and that required they get permits to work on the plane, News24 reports.

“Ground control was frantic. They wanted us to do it as quickly as possible because of the flight being delayed,” Dawson said, according to the TV station. “We have encountered some unusual bee removals, but this was a first for me.”

The bees were taken out of the airplane safely, the airline said.

Last year, an American Airlines flight leaving Miami for New York had a similar experience when a hoard of bees descended on the side of the aircraft before takeoff, CBS reports.

“[There] must have been thousands of them,” said passenger Jonathan Gilinski, according to CBS. “I’ve flown over 2 million miles and have experienced almost everything — so I thought!”

A spokesperson for the airline said removing the bees caused a four-hour delay, adding that passengers got snacks and drinks while they waited, CBS reports.

“Everybody requested free honey,” Gilinski said, according to CBS.

Bee encounters can be deadly, particularly for those who are allergic.

As many as many 100 people in the U.S. die after allergic reactions from insect stings every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“[W]hen you’re looking at attacks from wild animals only, the most common cause of death are due to venomous animals, like wasps or bees,” said Stanford University surgeon Joseph Forrester, according to CNN. “I think people have in their mind that the most dangerous animals are cougars, bears or alligators, but a bee is more dangerous if a person is predisposed to a reaction.”

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