Mumbai, June 29: The X-ray machines had scanned the bags and security staff frisked the passengers, but the terrorists had already positioned themselves on Flight 9W 327.
It was the passengers who saw them first.
“We had stepped onto the tarmac and were about to board the plane when we saw the amazing sight. A blanket of bees covered the nose of the jet and the plane’s entire front portion up to the front doors,” said Sudhir Kulkarni, a passenger. “It was really scary. We panicked, fearing an attack, and some of us started running.”
“The passengers were boarding Jet Airways’ 9.45am flight to Ahmedabad on Wednesday when we saw the bees,” a Mumbai airport official said. “No one was stung.”
The anxious passengers were shepherded into the plane from the rear end, the door was shut and locked, and the airport fire services were called in.
But as their hoses pounded the fuselage with water jets, more surprises were in store. Some of the bees flew away but most died and stuck to the aircraft.
The plane took off after a 20-minute delay, the dead bees smeared on its body. By the time it landed in Ahmedabad, though, the bees had fallen off, probably burnt crisp.
Jet Airways authorities were not available for comment, and it wasn’t clear whether there was a risk of the bees getting sucked into the engine during flight.
This was what happened to a Palmair London-Portugal flight a month ago as it flew into a cloud of bees over Bournemouth. The aircraft was forced to land and had to be changed.
The Mumbai mishap, however, was almost a repeat of one in Chennai last year when a swarm of bees covered the nose of a Mumbai-bound Indian flight, an Airbus, and delayed it for 45 minutes.
Here, too, a fire tender’s high-speed water nozzle didn’t help at all. Some of the bees fell off while the plane taxied at a speed higher than normal and some during take-off, but the rest were sky-bound.
Environmentalist Bittoo Sehgal saw nothing “unusual” about the incident. “This can happen anytime, anywhere and to anyone. Perhaps their beehive was disturbed. Bees never attack unless disturbed,” he said.
“They might have stuck to the plane to take shelter from the rain. The best thing would have been to leave them alone. Or, the authorities could have used the smoke machines that theatres employ.”
Anubha Sawhney, an activist with People for Ethical Treatment of Animals, said: “The way to handle such situations is not to disturb the bees, because they could have attacked people nearby. Bees generally move away by themselves.”
Perhaps this bunch wouldn’t have. Those that had flown away during the nozzle spray were seen clinging to a tarmac lamppost hours after the plane had left.