Qantas, Australia's national air carrier, grounded one of its planes in Sydney after flight attendants discovered a nest of baby rats in the cabin of the jet.
Flight attendants found the five baby rats in emergency medical equipment inside the cabin, just 10 minutes before passengers were due to board the Boeing 767 flight from Sydney to Brisbane.
The air crew was completing a routine pre-flight check of the plane when they found the stowaway rats in a cupboard that stores the onboard defibrillator kit, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports.
The flight was grounded, and passengers who were due to board were transferred to another plane while staff killed the rats. Engineers were sent in to check the plane and its electrical wiring. No rat-related damage was found, but Qantas is still investigating how the baby rats got on board. No adult rats were found on the plane.
The Boeing 767 jet was taken out of service for 36 hours, and is scheduled to fly again Thursday, The Australian reports.
A Qantas spokeswoman said that rats on a plane was a rare occurrence.
"We don't know how they got there. The aircraft was at the gate for some time before departure and we are investigating," she told Agence France-Presse. "It is a rare occurrence. We have no record of it ever happening before."
Other airlines have experienced similar rat problems. In April, U.S. health inspectors found rodent droppings "too numerous to count" near a Delta Air Lines jet’s galley, the food and drink storage area.
Last year, hundreds of passengers had to disembark an Air Canada flight from Ottawa to London after a "massive" rat was discovered in an overhead locker.
Earlier this year, British Airways took one of its Boeing 747s out of service for fumigation after a passenger complained of being bitten by bed bugs. The disgruntled passenger detailed her ordeal on a website complete with photos of her bites.
And a colony of cockroaches was discovered in the first-class section of an American Airlines flight last March.
Qantas has suffered a number of mishaps recently, most notably the emergency landing of one of the airline's superjumbos after experiencing engine trouble shortly after taking off from Singapore on its way to Sydney last November.
The airline grounded all six of its fleet of Airbus A380 airliners to carry out safety inspections.