Real-life snakes on a plane: Pilot forced to make emergency landing after spotting highly venomous cobra in cockpit

6 April 2023, 17:54 | Updated: 6 April 2023, 20:09

A pilot in South Africa was forced to perform a dramatic emergency landing after discovering a venomous cobra hiding in the cockpit.
A pilot in South Africa was forced to perform a dramatic emergency landing after discovering a venomous cobra hiding in the cockpit. Picture: Alamy

By Chris Samuel

A pilot in South Africa was forced to perform a dramatic emergency landing after discovering a venomous cobra hiding in the cockpit.

Rudolf Erasmus was flying in a light aircraft with four passengers onboard on Monday when he felt "something cold" moving across his lower back.

He glanced down and spotted the head of a Cape cobra, described as fairly large, "receding back under the seat".

Speaking to The Associated Press he said: "It was as if my brain didn't know what was going on."

He then informed the passengers.

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"There was a moment of stunned silence," he said.

Mr Erasmus then called air traffic control to ask for permission to land in the town of Welkom.

A Cape cobra in South Africa (stock)
A Cape cobra in South Africa (stock). Picture: Alamy

He continued to fly for another 10 to 15 minutes and land the plane with the reptile at his feet.

"I kept looking down to see where it was. It was happy under the seat," he said. "I don't have a big fear of snakes but I normally don't go near them."

Brian Emmenis, who works at a radio station in the town and is also an aviation expert, was contacted to see if he could help.

He rang the fire service, which sent an emergency crew as well as a snake handler to meet the plane as it landed at the airport.

Mr Emmenis, who was first at the scene, said everyone was "visibly shaken" as they disembarked, but safe, thanks to Mr Erasmus.

"He stayed calm and landed that aircraft with a deadly venomous Cape cobra curled up underneath his seat," Mr Emmenis said.

The snake handler and a team of aviation engineers searched the plane across two days but couldn't find the cobra by Wednesday.

Stock image of light aircraft
Stock image of light aircraft. Picture: Alamy

But the engineering firm Mr Erasmus works for wanted the plane returned to the city of Mbombela in northern South Africa.

So the pilot had to fly the 90 minute journey back, with the possibility that the slippery stowaway was still hidden somewhere in the plane.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, his passengers had decided to find another way home.

Chastened by the experience, Mr Erasmus made sure he had some precautions on board in case he had another shock.

He wore a thick winter jacket, wrapped a blanket round his seat, and brought a fire extinguisher, a can of bug spray and a golf club.

The cobra didn't appear, and hasn't been seen since, even after the plane was completely stripped.

It's thought it came aboard before Mr Erasmus and his passengers set off at the start of their trip in the Western Cape province, where Cape cobras are usually found in the country.

It might have then hopped off the plane in Welkom or could still be hidden in the bowels of the plane.

"I hope it finds somewhere to go," Mr Erasmus said. "Just not my aircraft."

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