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Passengers Hospitalized After Mysterious 'Dirty Socks' Odor Stinks Up Plane

And a Hazmat team couldn't figure out why the smell made people sick.
Socks image by Nor Azlan Hj Jantan/EyeEm. Spirit photo by Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

Today in our ongoing coverage of airplane horrors, a Spirit Airlines flight was forced to land in South Carolina on Thursday after a mysterious stench—likened by some onboard as the odor of "dirty socks"—started giving passengers chest pains and burning throats, NBC 4 reports.

The 220-person flight was on its way from NYC to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, when an "odor developed in a section of the aircraft," Spirit told NBC 4. By odor, apparently, the airline meant "the overwhelming stench of someone's nasty feet." The heinous smell was reportedly so disgusting that passengers started falling ill mid-flight, and some worried that the awful fumes might be the result of a potentially hazardous chemical leak, one passenger aboard the flight later said, according to NBC 4.


After making an emergency detour to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, between seven and ten passengers were raced to a nearby hospital, local fire officials said. The remaining passengers were hurried off the plane and held on the tarmac while a Hazmat team investigated the smell.

Ultimately, the emergency response team couldn't figure out the source of the disgusting, mystery stench. But they also weren't able to find any trace of hazardous substances onboard the aircraft, so they gave the plane the "all clear."

The story ostensibly has a happy ending—Spirit sent another flight down to pick up the stranded passengers, and they finally landed in Florida at 4:45 AM Friday morning, just about five hours later than originally planned. The handful of people who went to the hospital all seem like they'll be fine, too, according to ABC 15. But still, the mystery of the deadly stench remains.

The incident is vaguely similar to one that occurred at a vape factory in Massachusetts, where nearly 30 employees suddenly fell ill after a supposed gas leak. In that case, workers reportedly suffered seizures and had difficulty breathing, but a Hazmat team wasn't able to identify the source. So what's with all these mysterious odors making people sick?

If the Hazmat team's thorough sweep didn't turn up any toxic chemicals in this instance, then the reported dirty sock smell could really only be one thing: somebody's actual rancid socks. It would be far from the first time somebody's body odor grounded an entire aircraft. How about we all try to remember to bathe before sealing ourselves inside a metal tube and hurtling through the skies from now on, OK? Air travel is bad enough as it is.

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