SOUTH AFRICA -- South African authorities are applauding a pilot's courage for safely landing an aircraft after feeling a venomous stowaway cobra slithering on his body mid-flight.
The pilot, Rudolf Erasmus, told CNN he was piloting a small aircraft on Monday with four colleagues aboard when he felt a "cold sensation ... underneath my shirt at my hip area."
"At first, I thought it was my water bottle leaking," Erasmus said. "As I then turned to my left and I looked down, I saw the head of the snake receding back underneath my seat."
"I had a moment of stunned silence," he said. "It was more as if my brain did not register what is going on to be truly honest. It was a moment of disbelief, I think."
Before departing on the first part of the day's multi-leg trip, Erasmus said he had heard from people at the airport "that they saw this cape cobra that was seeking refuge underneath our wing of the aircraft and had a suspicion that it crawled into the engine cowling."
A search of the plane turned up nothing, "so we assumed the snake had gotten out and went on his merry way," he said.
But the snake was apparently in hiding and emerged mid-flight.
The pilot told the passengers, informed air traffic controllers he had "a bit of a situation," and landed the plane nearby. All five people onboard emerged unscathed, and the snake was found under the pilot's seat "in a nice pretty little bundle," Erasmus said.
The snake was a large cape cobra, according to the South African Civil Aviation Authority, which congratulated Erasmus "for displaying impeccable bravery after landing his aircraft incident-free, albeit under extreme pressure."
"He remained calm in the face of a dangerous situation and managed to land the aircraft safely without any harm to him or his fellow passengers on board, displaying to the world that he is an aviation safety ambassador of the highest order," Poppy Khoza, the aviation authority director, said in a statement on Friday.
Cape cobras have a venomous bite, and the adults can reach more than 5 feet long, according to the South African National Biodiversity Institute.
Local snake catchers were called to the plane after landing, but Erasmus said the snake had disappeared. He and some engineers spent the next two days pulling the aircraft apart, searching for the snake.
"They took out the seats, the carpets, the panels -- basically everything in the aircraft that they could strip at that point, they did," he said. "But once again, unfortunately with no success."
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