Millions of bees being transported on a US flight died in extreme heat after being left on the tarmac

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Andre Skonieczny / Getty
  • About 5 million bees bound for Alaska were forced to stop in Atlanta, where most died, per APM. 
  • Sarah McElrea, who ordered the bees, was told by carrier Delta they would have to sit on the tarmac.
  • Delta apologised for the "unfortunate situation."
  • For more stories visit Business Insider.

Millions of bees bound for Alaska died on a Delta Air Lines flight after the plane was left on the tarmac in Atlanta, following a diversion. 

Alaska Public Media (APM) reported on Wednesday that a Delta plane carrying a shipment of around 5 million bees bound for Anchorage, Alaska, was forced to reroute to Atlanta, Georgia. Most of the bees died in Atlanta.

The shipment of 200 crates, ordered by Sarah McElrea of Sarah's Alaska Honey on behalf of 300 Alaskan beekeepers, carried 800 pounds of bees and was worth an estimated $48,000. 

The crates had been due to travel from Sacramento, California, to Anchorage Airport via Seattle, Washington. But the bees did not fit on the Seattle-bound flight and were instead rerouted through the Delta hub in Atlanta. 

Delta told McElrea the bees would have to wait in a cooler last Saturday but they were transferred to the tarmac the next day over fears the bees were escaping. McElrea told APM the temperature in Atlanta was 80 degrees Fahrenheit on the day they were left there.

"I really panicked when they found they had moved them outside because the pheromones that those honeybees emit are attractive to other honeybees that are native to the area," she told APM. Because the bees were outside, it made it harder to rescue those in the crates.

MacElrea told APM that she connected on Facebook to "a page that is based in Georgia." She got through to Edward Morgan, a beekeeper in Georgia, Atlanta, who told Atlanta radio station WABE he and more than 20 others from Metro Atlanta Beekeepers Association rushed to the airport to try and save the bees.

"It's devastating to see that many dead," Julia Mahood, a Georgia master beekeeper, told 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."

In an emailed statement, Delta spokeswoman Catherine Morrow told The Associated Press on Friday 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."

Catherine Salm, another spokesperson for Delta, told APM: "We have been in contact with the customer directly to apologize for the unfortunate situation." 

McElrea and Delta did not immediately respond to Insider's requests for comment outside normal working hours. 

McElrea told The New York Times in an interview that Alaskans increasingly rely on imports for bees to pollinate crops for spring and autumn harvests.  

"People don't grasp just how dependent we as a species are on honeybees for pollination," MacElrea told the New York Times. "And this is just a waste, an absolute tragedy."

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