What was supposed to be a routine flight for pilot Rudolph Erasmus turned out to be a hair-raising experience when he found out he had an uninvited passenger on his aircraft – a deadly cobra.
The South African was flying from the judicial capital of Bloemfontein to Pretoria with four passengers in a Beechcraft Baron 58 private plane at 3.4km when he said he felt a “cold sensation” on his hip.
Thinking that it was his water bottle which could be leaking, Mr Erasmus, 58, looked down and saw a 1.5m Cape cobra slithering under his seat.
“I saw the cobra… receding its head backwards underneath the seat,” he told the BBC.
Cape cobras are highly venomous snakes which can be found across Southern Africa. A bite from a Cape cobra can kill a person within 30 minutes. According to the African Snakebite Institute, Cape cobras, along with the Black Mamba, accounts for the majority of fatal snakebites in South Africa.
Concerned that the snake might cause a massive panic if it slithered towards passengers, Mr Erasmus took a moment to compose himself before telling those on board the presence of the unwanted guest.
“I told them, ‘Listen, the snake is underneath my seat. It is inside the cockpit, so we are going to have to execute a landing as fast as possible’,” he told the local news outlet Lowvelder. “Luckily, everyone remained calm.”
He alerted the authorities about the situation and was swiftly given permission to make an emergency landing at the airport in the city of Welkom, about 140km north-east of Bloemfontein.
After the passengers disembarked, Mr Erasmus tried to look for the serpent but it could not be found.
The pilot has been hailed as a hero, with South African civil aviation commissioner Poppy Khosa praising his “great airmanship indeed which saved all lives on board”.