The critter you see up there is a Cape cobra, also known as a yellow cobra. It’s one of the most dangerous snakes in Africa, with venom that can kill you by paralysis and respiratory failure in as little as one hour. That was a problem for pilot Rudolph Erasmus, who discovered one of these scaly bastards in the cockpit of his plane mid-flight this week.
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Erasmus was flying a Beechcraft Baron 58, a six-passenger, twin-engine propellor plane, from Worcester to Mbombela in South Africa on Monday. Speaking with local news outlet The Lowvelder, Erasmus explained that he and his four passengers had just taken off after a fuel stop, cruising at about 11,000 feet, when he felt something cold against his hip. He initially thought it was his water bottle leaking — then he saw the snake’s head.
“To be truly honest, it’s as if my brain did not register what was going on,” Erasmus told the BBC. “I felt this cool sensation, sort of, crawling up my shirt,” he said. “As I turned to the left and looked down I saw the cobra [...] receding its head backwards underneath the seat.”
“It was receding under my chair. I kept quiet for minute or two, because I didn’t want the passengers to panic,” Erasmus told the Lowvelder. “I informed them a snake was under my seat in the cockpit and I needed to land the plane as soon as possible. Luckily everyone remained calm.”
The pilot radioed air traffic control to request an emergency landing, and around 15 minutes later, the plane was on the ground at a local airport in Welkom, South Africa. Erasmus asked the passengers to evacuate first, then he hopped out himself, all without jostling the venomous 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,” he told the Lowvelder.
Here’s where things get extra sketchy: A local snake expert and a group of aviation mechanics spent two days dismantling the Beechcraft looking for the snake, but they couldn’t locate the creature, the Associated Press reports. The snake expert even put a layer of corn flour on the ground underneath the plane, which would show the snake’s tracks if it had exited the craft, but after 48 hours, there was no sign that the cobra had departed.
Erasmus’s employer needed the plane back in Mbombela, so on Wednesday, the pilot got back in the plane for the 90-minute return flight, unclear on whether the cobra was still present. His passengers opted to return by car, but Erasmus came prepared: He put on a thick winter coat, wrapped a blanket around his seat, and brought a fire extinguisher, a can of inset repellant, and a golf club to defend himself.
“I would say I was on high alert,” Erasmus told the Associated Press.
The cobra never showed itself, even after the plane landed in Mbombela and was fully stripped down, Erasmus said. It may have gotten out unnoticed in Welkom, or it might still be lurking deep in the recesses of the aircraft.
“I hope it finds somewhere to go,” Erasmus told the Associated Press. “Just not my aircraft.”