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Pilot finds Cobra under seat, makes emergency landing: "I looked down"

A South African pilot made a quick emergency landing after discovering a highly venomous cobra hiding under his seat.

Rudolf Erasmus was four passengers aboard the light plane during Monday’s flight when he felt “something cold” slide down his lower back. He looked down and saw the head of a fairly large cape cobra “coming back under the seat,” he said.

“It was like my brain didn’t know what was going on,” he told The Associated Press.

After taking a moment to compose himself, he informed his passengers of the slippery stowage.

“There was a moment of stunned silence,” he said. Everyone is cool, especially the pilot.

South African snakes on planes

In this photo provided by Brian Emmenis, people look inside a plane at Welcom Airport in Welcom, South Africa, as they search for a venomous snake that the pilot found hiding under the middle of his seat, Monday, April 3, 2023.

Brian Emmenis/AP

Erasmus called air traffic control for permission to make an emergency landing in the central South African town of Wellcome. He had to fly for another 10 to 15 minutes and land the plane with the snake curled up around his leg.

“I kept looking down where it was. It was happy under the seat,” Erasmus said. “I’m not terribly afraid of snakes but I don’t usually go near them.”

Brian Emmenis, who works at Welcome radio station Gold FM and is also an aviation expert, got a phone call to see if he could help. He called the Fire and Rescue Department, which sent emergency responders and a snake handler to meet the plane at the airport. Emenis was first on the scene and saw everyone go down, “visibly shaken,” Emenis said, but all safe thanks to Erasmus.

“He remained calm and a deadly venomous cape cobra landed the plane curled up under his seat,” Emmenis said.

Cape cobras are one of the most dangerous cobra species in Africa due to their venom power.

The drama wasn’t over for the poor pilot.

Wellcome snake handler Johan de Klerk and a team of aviation engineers searched the plane for the better part of two days but by Wednesday had still not found the cobra and were unsure if it was hiding unnoticed.

Engineering company Erasmus worked to recover the aircraft in the northern South African town of Mbombela. So, he had to make it back home, a 90-minute voyage, with the Cobra still on board.

Surprisingly, his passengers decided to find another way to get home.

This time Erasmus took some precautions: He wore a thick winter jacket, he said, wrapped a blanket around his seat, and had a fire extinguisher, a can of insect repellent and a golf club within arm’s reach in the cockpit.

“I would say I was on high alert,” Erasmus said.

The cobra did not reappear on that flight and the plane has now been completely stripped, but there is still no sign of the snake, Erasmus said.

The theory is that Erasmus and his passengers found their way on board before starting their journey from the city of Worcester in the Western Cape Province, where Cape cobras are commonly found in South Africa. It may have slipped out of the wellcome or may have been hidden somewhere deep inside the plane.

“I hope it finds somewhere to go,” Erasmus said. “Just not my plane.”

Snakes have been found on commercial aircraft in recent years. Last October Snakes are discovered Boarded a United Airlines passenger flight from Tampa Bay, Florida to Newark, New Jersey. In February 2022, an AirAsia passenger flight in Malaysia, traveling from Kuala Lumpur to Tawau, was forced to move in Kuching after a snake was spotted in an overhead light.

In 2017, a snake was found on a flight to Anchorage, Alaska, and in 2016, passengers were startled on an Aeromexico flight to Mexico City. Bright green snake Drop out of one of the luggage bins.

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