CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — A pilot in South Africa made a hurried emergency landing after discovering a highly venomous cobra under his seat. And then he had to take off again without knowing if the creature was still on the plane.
Rudolf Erasmus was carrying four passengers on Monday’s flight from Worcester when he felt “something cold” slide down his lower back. Glancing down, he saw the head of a fairly large Cape cobra “recede 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 calm down, he informed his passengers of the stowaway.
“There was a moment of stunned silence,” he said, but everyone remained calm.
Cape cobras, which can grow to about five feet in length, are one of Africa’s most dangerous cobra species due to the power of their venom.
Erasmus called air traffic control for permission to make an emergency landing in the town of Welkom, in central South Africa. He had to fly another 10 to 15 minutes and land the plane with the hose coiled at his feet.
“I kept looking down to see where it was. Luckily it was under the seat,’ said Erasmus. “I’m not that afraid of snakes, but I don’t normally go near them.”
Brian Emmenis, who works at a radio station in Welkom and is also an aviation expert, got a call asking if he could help. He called the fire and rescue service, who dispatched emergency services and a hose handler to meet the plane at the airport.
Emmenis was the first on the scene and saw everyone disembark, ‘visibly shaken’, he said, but safe thanks to Erasmus.
The drama wasn’t over for the poor pilot.
Welcome snake handler Johan de Klerk and a team of aeronautical engineers searched the plane for nearly two days, but still hadn’t found the cobra by Wednesday and weren’t sure if it had slipped away undetected.
The engineering firm Erasmus works for wanted his plane back in the northern South African town of Mbombela. So he had to fly it home, a 90-minute journey with the possibility that the cobra was still on board.
Unsurprisingly, his passengers decided to find another way to get home.
This time Erasmus took some precautions: he wore a thick coat, wrapped a blanket around his chair and had a fire extinguisher, a can of insect repellent and a golf club within reach.
“I would say I was very alert,” he said.
The cobra did not reappear on that flight, and the plane is now completely gutted, but still no sign of the snake, Erasmus said.
Maybe he escaped in Welkom or is still hidden somewhere deep in the plane.
‘I hope it can go somewhere,’ said Erasmus. “Just not my plane.”