About 5 million honeybees on their way to Alaska were targeted last weekend as Delta Air Lines guided them through Atlanta, where most of the bees died after being left in crates on the ground for hours in hot weather.
The bees were the first of two shipments ordered by Alaska beekeeper Sarah McElrea from a distributor in California. The bees would be used to pollinate apple orchards and farms in Alaska, where they are not native.
But the bees were bumped from their original route to Anchorage, Alaska, and instead put on a flight to Atlanta, where they would be transferred to a plane bound for Anchorage, according to published reports.
McElrea said she was concerned when the 800-pound shipment failed to arrive in Atlanta in time to make the connecting flight. The next day, she said, Delta told her a few bees had escaped, so airline personnel moved the crates of the bees outside a Delta cargo hold.
In a panic, McElrea reached a beekeeper in Atlanta, who rushed to the airport and found that many of the bees had died from heat and starvation, according to The New York Times.
Delta called it an “unfortunate situation.”
In an emailed statement, Delta spokeswoman Catherine Morrow told The Associated Press on Friday that the airline “was notified of the shipping situation … and quickly engaged the appropriate internal teams to assess the situation. We immediately responded action has been taken to take new measures to ensure that such events do not occur in the future.”
Morrow said Delta apologized to McElrea. The airline declined to make anyone available for an interview.
Atlanta beekeeper Edward Morgan called on more than a dozen people to go to the airport and try to save any living bees.
“It’s terrible to see so many dead,” Georgia beekeeper Julia Mahood told WABE broadcaster in Atlanta. “Just clumps of dead bees that didn’t stand a chance because they were left out without food and basically got lost in Delta’s machines.”
McElrea, who runs a company called Sarah’s Alaska Honey, said she had received many previous shipments of honeybees on Delta from Sacramento, California, to Anchorage via Seattle. The airline told her that last weekend’s shipment did not fit on the plane, so they were rerouted through Atlanta.
McElrea said her California supplier will replace the shipment, which was worth about $48,000. She said she hopes Delta will provide some help, although she acknowledged that shipping live animals carries risks.