Australian pilot turns back due to snake in cockpit

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(AP) CANBERRA, Australia - An Australian pilot said he was forced to make a harrowing landing reminiscent of a Hollywood thriller after a snake popped out from behind his dashboard and slithered across his leg during a solo cargo flight.

Braden Blennerhassett, unsure whether the snake was venomous, said Thursday that his heart raced as he tried to keep his hands still while maneuvering the plane back to the northern city of Darwin. The snake popped its head out from behind the instrument panel several times, Blennerhassett said, and then the ordeal worsened when the animal crawled across his leg during the approach to the airport.

"I've seen it on a movie once, but never in an airplane," Blennerhassett told Australian Broadcasting Corp., referring to the 2006 movie "Snakes on a Plane," in which deadly snakes are deliberately released in an airliner as part of a murder plot.

The 26-year-old Air Frontier pilot was alone in a twin-engine Beechcraft Baron G58 and had just left Darwin airport on a cargo run to a remote Outback Aboriginal settlement when he saw the snake on Tuesday.

Air Frontier director Geoff Hunt described Blennerhassett as a "cool character" who radioed air traffic control to report: "I'm going to have to return to Darwin. I've got a snake on board the plane."

But Blennerhassett admits he was shaken, telling Nine Network television that his blood pressure and hear rate were "a bit elevated."

"You're trying to be as still as you possibly can and when you've got your hands on the power levers," he told ABC. "You're kind of worried about the snake taking that as a threat and biting you."

"As the plane was landing, the snake was crawling down my leg, which was frightening," he told Nine.

Once the plane had landed, a firefighter spotted the snake but authorities were not immediately able to catch it, Air Frontier official Michael Ellen said. A trap baited with a mouse failed to catch the snake by Thursday, and the plane remained grounded.

Wildlife ranger Sally Heaton said the snake was suspected to be a golden tree snake, a non-venomous species that can grow up to 1.5 meters (5 feet).

Blennerhassett was back in the air Thursday and could not be immediately contacted for comment.

Hunt said he was not aware of a snake being found in a plane before in Australia, but that he had heard of a young chicken being found alive under the floor of a plane and of an escaped juvenile crocodile crawling under a pilot's rudder pedal.

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