About 5 million honeybees bound for Alaska last weekend got waylaid when Delta Air Lines routed them through Atlanta, where most of the bees died after being left for hours in crates on the ground during hot weather.
The bees were the first of two shipments ordered by Alaska beekeeper Sarah McElrea from a distributor in California. The bees were to be used to pollinate apple orchards and nurseries 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 were to be transferred to an Anchorage-bound plane, according to published reports.
McElrea said she worried when the 800-pound shipment didn’t arrive in Atlanta in time to make the connecting flight. The next day, she said, Delta told her some bees had escaped, so airline workers put the crates holding the bees outside a Delta cargo bay.
In a panic, McElrea reached a beekeeper in Atlanta, who rushed to the airport and discovered 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 that the airline "was made aware of the shipment situation ... and quickly engaged the appropriate internal teams to assess the situation. We have taken immediate action to implement new measures to ensure events of this nature do not occur in the future."
Morrow said Delta apologized to McElrea. The airline declined to make anyone available for an interview.
The beekeeper in Atlanta, Edward Morgan, called more than a dozen people to go to the airport and try to save any bees that were still alive.
"It’s devastating to see that many dead," Georgia beekeeper Julia Mahood told Atlanta broadcaster WABE. "Just clumps of dead bees that had no chance because they were left outside with no food and basically got lost in Delta’s machinery."
McElrea, who runs a business called Sarah’s Alaska Honey, said that she had received previous shipments of honeybees on Delta from Sacramento, California, to Anchorage via Seattle many times. The airline told her that last weekend’s shipment didn’t fit on the plane, so they were rerouted through Atlanta.
McElrea said her supplier in California will replace the shipment, which was worth about $48,000. She said she is hoping Delta provides some help, although she acknowledged that shipping live animals carries risk.