CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — A pilot in South Africa made a hasty emergency landing after discovering a highly venomous cobra hidden under his seat.
Rudolf Erasmus had four passengers aboard the plane during the flight on Monday when he felt “something cold” slide down his lower back. He looked down to see the head of a rather large Cape Cobra “recoiling 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 herself, she informed her passengers of the slippery stowaway.
“There was a moment of stunned silence,” he said. Everyone kept calm, especially the pilot.
Erasmo asked air traffic control for permission to make an emergency landing in the city of Welkom, in central South Africa. He still had to fly another 10 to 15 minutes and land the plane with the snake at his feet.
“I kept looking down to see where it was. I 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 Welkom Gold FM radio station 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 personnel and a snake handler to meet the plane at the airport. Emmenis was the first to arrive on the scene and saw everyone disembark, “visibly shocked,” Emmenis said, but all safe thanks to Erasmus.
“He kept his cool and landed that plane with a deadly poisonous Cape Cobra curled up under his seat,” Emmenis said.
Cape Cobras are one of the most dangerous cobra species in Africa due to the potency of their venom.
The drama was not over for the poor pilot.
Welkom’s snake handler, Johan de Klerk, and a team of aviation engineers searched the plane for the better part of two days, but had still not found the cobra on Wednesday and were unsure if it had escaped unnoticed.
The engineering company that Erasmus works for wanted his plane to return to the city of Mbombela, in the north of South Africa. So he had to fly home, a 90-minute trip with the possibility that the cobra was still on board.
As expected, its passengers decided to find another way to get home.
This time, Erasmus took a few precautions: He was wearing a thick winter jacket, he said, wrapped a blanket around his seat, and kept a fire extinguisher, a can of bug spray and a golf club within arm’s reach in the cabin.
“I would say he 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 it arrived on board before Erasmus and its passengers took off at the start of their journey from the city of Worcester in the Western Cape province, where Cape Cobras are usually found in South Africa. He may have left in Welkom or he may still be hiding somewhere deep in the plane.
“I hope he finds a place to go,” Erasmus said. “Just not my plane.”