Beekeeper hospitalized in Africanized ‘Killer’ Bee attack

Jon Johnson File Photo/Gila Herald: Africanized bees gather at their hive at a different bee call south of Safford. On Wednesday, a beekeeper was hospitalized after being stung more than 300 times during a bee relocation attempt. 

By Jon Johnson

SAFFORD – Even beekeepers are not immune to suffering the sting of a swarm of Africanized “Killer” Bees.

A beekeeper in a bee suit was hospitalized Wednesday, Sept. 24, after being stung more than 300 times while attempting to relocate a hive of bees.

According to Safford Fire Chief Clark Bingham, the beekeeper was called to remove a hive and perhaps add them to his own hive. Bingham previously acknowledged that any wild hive of bees in the area is almost certainly of the Africanized “Killer” Bee variety that is much more aggressive than the common European honeybee. 

“A beekeeper got into a hive that was extremely aggressive and they were able to get up into his suit and in his pants and attack him,” Bingham said. “He was contacted or somebody hired him to remove these bees and they were far more aggressive for what he was prepared for.”

First responders were dispatched to the area on 1st. Avenue at about 8:34 a.m. Bingham and a Safford Police officer arrived at the same time, with the officer donned in a bee suit.

At that time, Bingham instructed the beekeeper to walk away from the area and for the officer to assist the beekeeper. As the officer went to put the beekeeper in his patrol vehicle, however, hundreds of bees began attacking him with the stingers penetrating his gloves. The officer decided he could not get the beekeeper in the vehicle without allowing the bees inside as well, so he instructed the beekeeper to keep walking.

The officer then helped the beekeeper, who was being stung in his face and was having trouble breathing, walk toward 1st Avenue. Once there, the officer used a fire extinguisher Bingham had that was filled with soapy water to knock the bees off himself and the beekeeper. The men then entered Bingham’s truck, and he drove them to meet with paramedics from Lifeline Ambulance.

The beekeeper and officer were then transported to Mt. Graham Regional Medical Center (MGRMC). The officer was treated and released, and the beekeeper stayed at the hospital for observation.

Video By Jon Johnson of a previous Killer Bee eradication.

After the victim was removed from the area, Safford firefighters went back and took out the hive. 

“We ended up removing about 200 pounds of bees and comb,” Bingham said. “That’s a lot.”

While Bingham is allergic to bee stings, he has worked numerous emergency bee calls and famously helped save the life of then 11-year-old Andrew Kunz in February 2017 after the boy came across a hive and was stung more than 400 times. Kunz was flown to Phoenix Children’s Hospital after Bingham guided him away from the swarm and made a complete recovery. During that fracas, Bingham and Graham County Sheriff Sgt. Jacob Carpenter and deputy Justin Baughman were repeatedly stung and had to receive treatment at MGRMC.

While the Safford Fire Department removed the hive due to the emergency circumstances, Bingham recommends people in need of a hive removal to call a professional exterminator who is well prepared for that type of incident.

“Bees are nothing to fool around with,” Bingham said. “Believe me, I know.”