Snakes on a Plane is an infamous Samuel L. Jackson movie from the mid-aughts. It’s also what one South African pilot came face to face with this week.
When flying on Monday, Rudolf Erasmus encountered a venomous Cape cobra while 11,000 feet in the air, The New York Times reported on Friday. Somehow, he was able to keep his composure and safely carry out an emergency landing, with no snake bites to mention.
“No one was panicking or getting hysterical about the snake,” Erasmus told the Times. “And there was a moment of silence in the cabin. You could hear a needle drop.”
Before taking off from the Western Cape, airport workers told Erasmus that a Cape cobra had been seen getting into the engine of the plane. (The Cape cobra is one of the most dangerous snakes in South Africa, responsible for most snakebite deaths in the southern part of the continent, along with black mambas, according to the African Snakebite Institute.) Nobody could find the snake, though, so they assumed it had left of its own accord. When Erasmus felt a cool sensation under his shirt, he thought it was just a water-bottle leak. Instead, he turned and saw the head of the snake under his feet.
Not wanting to alarm the four passengers aboard the plane, Erasmus announced that an “uninvited guest” had joined their flight, as The New York Times put it. He quickly made plans to land at the nearest airport, about 10 or 15 minutes out. The last one to deplane, Erasmus saw the snake curled up under his seat as he exited the aircraft.
Once the plane was clear of all passengers, a snake handler arrived to take care of the cobra. Yet somehow, the snake was again impossible to find. Even after two days of searching, nobody could locate the slippery animal. Despite the ordeal, Erasmus took off in the same plane a few days later—this time, covering up as many holes as possible, in case the snake was still hiding out somewhere.
That trip went off without a hitch, and Erasmus is planning to continue flying the Beechcraft Baron 58. Let’s hope for his sake that the Cape cobra is a little tired of traveling for now.