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South African Pilot Finds Cobra in Cockpit

Of Barons and Cobras

A pilot in South Africa made a hasty emergency landing after discovering a highly venomous cobra stowed away beneath his seat.

Rudolf Erasmus, who was transporting four passengers aboard a Beechcraft Baron-58 on Monday, 03 April 2023, reported feeling “something cold” slide across his lower back as the aircraft proceeded along its flight-plan route after departing the town of Worcester in South Africa’s Western Cape. Perplexed, Mr. Erasmus glanced down to see the head of a Cape Cobra “receding back under the seat.”

During a subsequent interview, Mr. Erasmus stated: “It was as if my brain didn’t know what was going on.”
Taking a moment to comport himself, the commendably stoic pilot informed his passengers of the reptilian interloper’s presence.

“There was a moment of stunned silence,” he recalled.

Mr. Erasmus advised Air Traffic Control (ATC) of his predicament and requested clearance to divert to the central South African city of Welkom—a flight of some 15-minutes from the aircraft’s then-position.

“I kept looking down to see where it was. It was happy under the seat,” Erasmus recounted. “I don’t have a big fear of snakes but I normally don’t go near them.”

Welkom FM radio personality and aviation pundit Brian Emmenis received a telephone call inquiring after his willingness to help resolve the unorthodox conundrum. Amenable to the request, Emmenis phoned fire and rescue services, which promptly dispatched emergency responders—to include a snake wrangler—to meet the Beechcraft at a local airport. Emmenis was first to arrive at the airfield and witnessed the disembarkment of what he called “visibly shaken,” passengers.

Lauding Mr. Erasmus’s deportment under pressure, Emmenis remarked: “He stayed calm and landed that aircraft with a deadly venomous Cape Cobra curled up underneath his seat.”

Cape Cobras are among South Africa’s deadliest serpents.

Landing, regrettably, brought Mr. Erasmus little in the way of lasting relief.

Aided by a team of aviation engineers, snake wrangler Johan de Klerk searched the Beechcraft light-twin for the better part of two days—alas, to no avail. Supposition mounted that the cobra had vamoosed unnoticed while the aircraft’s human occupants had been preoccupied with the business of survival.

The engineering company by which Mr. Erasmus is employed decreed in short order that its aircraft was to be returned straight-away to the South African city of Mbombela—a ninety-minute flight Mr. Erasmus perspicaciously feared would find a well-hidden, likely famished and irritable cobra compelled by altitude’s cold to seek out the warmth of human companionship.

Mr. Erasmus’s quartet of passengers—their respective thirsts for adventure slaked—opted to return home otherwise.

Resigning himself to his employer’s will, Erasmus made ready for the flight by girding himself in a heavy winter jacket and wrapping a blanket around his cockpit seat. What’s more, the prudent pilot armed himself with a fire-extinguisher, a can of insect repellent, and a golf club, which he kept within arm’s reach throughout the flight to Mbombela.

“I would say I was on high alert,” Erasmus opined.

The cobra made no appearance at altitude, however; nor any time thereafter for that matter.

By and by, uncertainty compelled the aircraft’s owners to strip the machine to its bulkheads and spars. The cobra, however, was never found.

The prevailing theory sets forth that the serpent found its way aboard the Baron sometime between Mr. Erasmus’s preflight inspection of the aircraft and the embarkment of the four passengers. The flight departed South Africa’s Western Cape province—where the country’s population of Cape Cobras is concentrated. Punters familiar with the weird incident are split evenly in their contentions that the cobra deplaned in Welkom, or remains tucked away deep within the aircraft, waiting with preternatural reptilian patience for an opportunity to emerge.

“I hope it finds somewhere to go,” Mr. Erasmus concluded. “Just not my aircraft.”



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