CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — A pilot in South Africa made an emergency landing after finding a highly venomous cobra under his seat.
Rudolf Erasmus was on a four-passenger light plane during a flight on Monday when he felt “something cold” slide down his lower back. He looked down at the head of a large cape cobra “retreating under the seat.”
“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 stowaway.
“There was a moment of stunned silence,” he said. Everyone was quiet, especially the pilot.
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 for another 10 to 15 minutes and land the plane with his legs coiled up.
“I looked down to see where it was. It was happy under the seat,” Erasmus said. “I don’t have a great fear of snakes, but I don’t usually go near them.”
Brian Emmenis, also an aviation expert, who works for Welcom radio station Gold FM, 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. Emmenis was first on the scene and saw everyone go down, “visibly shaken,” Emmenis said, but all safe thanks to Erasmus.
“He stayed calm and landed that plane with a deadly venomous cape cobra curled up under his seat,” Emmenis said.
Cape cobras are one of Africa’s most dangerous cobra species because of the potency of their venom.
The drama was not over for the poor pilot.
Wellcome snake handler Johan de Klerk and a team of flight engineers searched the plane for two days, but by Wednesday the cobra had not been found and it was uncertain whether it had been lurking unnoticed.
Erasmus, an engineering firm, wants to land its plane back in the northern South African city of Mbombela. So he had to fly it home on a 90-minute journey with the possibility that the cobra was still on board.
Unexpectedly, his passengers decided to find another way home.
This time Erasmus took some precautions: he wore a thick winter jacket, he wrapped a blanket around his seat, and kept a fire extinguisher, a can of insect repellent and a golf club in the cockpit.
“I would say I was more cautious,” Erasmus said.
The cobra never reappeared on that flight, Erasmus said, and now the plane has been completely dismantled, but there is still no sign of the snake.
The theory is that it was on board before Erasmus and his passengers left Worcester in the Western Cape Province, where Cape cobras are commonly found in South Africa. It could be out of the Welcom or hidden somewhere in the depths of the plane.
“I believe it has to go somewhere,” Erasmus said. “Not my plane.”