Venomous Snake in Plane Cockpit Forces Emergency Landing – Your Mileage May Vary

Remember the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, where Indiana Jones discovers there’s a big snake in his seat?

Indy lucked out – THAT snake was the pilot’s pet snake, Reggie. He was big, but harmless. Another pilot was recently not so lucky.

Rudolf Erasmus, age 30, is a pilot from the Lowveld region of South Africa. He was forced to make an emergency landing this past Monday when he discovered what was believed to be a 4-foot-long Cape cobra, one of South Africa’s most venomous snakes, not just on board his plane, but right next to him!

Erasmus told the Lowvelder, the local newspaper, that the flight, with four passengers in his Beechcraft Baron 58, had begun pretty typically.

“We had flown from Worcester and stopped at the Bram Fischer International Airport in Bloemfontein to refuel and get something to eat. We boarded again and were en route to the Wonderboom National Airport, with the final destination being the old Nelspruit Airfield,” said Erasmus.

While at 11,000 feet, Erasmus he suddenly felt something cold against his body. Erasmus said that at first, he thought his water bottle was leaking. But then he looked down and saw the head of a snake, which he said looked like a Cape cobra…which just happens to be one of the most venomous snakes in Africa (a bite can kill a person in just 30 minutes).

“It was receding under my chair,” Erasmus said. “I kept quiet for minute or two, because I didn’t want the passengers to panic. I informed them a snake was under my seat in the cockpit and I needed to land the plane as soon as possible.”

“You could hear a needle drop and I think everyone froze for a moment or two,” he told the BBC.

Pilots are, of course, trained for lots of scenarios, but dealing with snakes in the cockpit isn’t one of them. He told the BBC that panicking would have just made the situation worse.

“Luckily everyone remained calm.”

With that, he radioed the proper authorities, who gave him permission to land at the nearest airport in Welkom, the second-largest city in the Free State province of the country, and about 90 miles northeast of their starting point of Bloemfontein.

Happily, the snake just hung out under his seat, not biting anybody, while Erasmus landed the plane.

Once they had stopped, Erasmus let his passengers exit first. Then he started the task of trying to find the snake.

“I stood on the wing on the plane and moved the seat forward to try and spot the snake. It was curled up under my seat. It was quite a big fellow.” But it had now moved to a different part of the plane…and no one knew where.

Two engineers also couldn’t find the snake. So a snake catcher was called to try to find it. Unfortunately, by He (the catcher) couldn’t find it either.

“We searched on Monday until dark,” snake catcher de Klerk told Newsweek. He even laid down a thick layer of mielie meal (a type of South African flour) around the plane. That way if the snake left the plane overnight, it would leave a trail. Unfortunately, there was no sign of the snake leaving the plane when everyone arrived back on Tuesday.

“On Tuesday morning we continued the search until Aircraft engineers arrived from Bloemfontein and stripped the inside completely, but we still could not find the snake. It must have gotten out during the night before the engineers started stripping,” de Klerk continued.

No one is sure how the snake got into the cockpit to begin with. However according to News24, two other pilots in Worcester saw a Cape cobra slithering near the plane on Sunday afternoon, not long before it took off from that airport.

A photo of the plane, taken not long before take off, includes a snake slithering near the plane’s wheel, under the wing propeller. “The snake on the photo was identified as a Cape cobra so it is most probably the same snake yes,” said de Klerk.

Two people working at the airport at the time allegedly tried to “grab” it (who tries to grab a venomous snake?!?!?!), but weren’t successful.

Meanwhile, the South African aviation community has praised Erasmus for keeping his head during such a stressful moment.

“I must compliment Rudolf Erasmus for the way he handled the situation,” said Brian Emmenis, the official commentator for the Lowveld Airshow.

South African civil aviation commissioner, Poppy Khosa, also his “great airmanship indeed which saved all lives on board,” according to News24

But Erasmus remained modest, saying he doesn’t feel like he’s special for what he did. “I think that’s a bit blown up if I can be direct,” he said. “It’s also my passengers that remained calm as well.”

He told TimesLive: ‘This was definitely a first and not something you get trained to handle.’

The snake remains at large.

I triple dog dare you to fly in that plane right now ;-).

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