The newspaper call it an attack. But we know better. The story being carried around the world yesterday is that a group of honey bees decided to attack a passenger plane (an Airbus-319, no less… that’s just a small step down from the Airbus-320) as it was preparing to embark for St Petersburg. I guess people were frightened by the bees. But the bees were not engaged in an attack. It was a harmless swarm, rather common at this time of year. It is doubtful they planned to entomb the plane in wax and honey or turn it into a hive.
I find it more frightening that two ambulances were called. This, said the airport, was in case the bees managed to get into the cabin. You know, through rusty holes in the fuselage, rips in the metal where seams are coming undone, or maybe broken passenger windows. I have a friend who has travelled aboard regional carriers in Russia. Some are a bit relaxed about inspection and safety standards – in my friend’s case, his seat belt didn’t work, there was no preflight safety announcement, and his plane limped badly down the runway until the pilot finally brought it back for a tire change. (Yesterday’s incident involved a different carrier, one with a much better reputation. They probably have a sturdy plane.)
What motivated the swarm to attack yesterday’s passenger jet? According to a Russian news source, that question was posed to a local agriculture scientist and bee expert. Timiryazev Anatoly Kochetov explained, “Bees are very fond of silence, and I assume that they attacked the plane as a source of noise.” That sounds unlikely. The scientists more plausibly added that the bees were swarming from some suburban apiary and were migrating through the airport.
The migrants didn’t fare well. Airport staff “removed them” from the plane. The bees would not have survived clinging to the wing for the entire 800-kilometre trip from Moscow to St Pete. They would have flitted off, one by one, icy cold. It’s also doubtful that the bees survived the removal at the airport if they were hosed off with water as I suspect they were.