Rufus Leakin

Guru of Folklore

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.

a tie and trenchcoat and carrying a briefcase, James Summers walked into a Madison, WI. Denny’s restaurant, headed into the back office and introduced himself as the new general manager.

Braden Blennerhassett — unsure whether the snake was venomous — said 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.

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 heart 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 News. “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 later, 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 soon after 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.

Every now and then a story comes along that sounds like it could have been made up at a frat party and then spread around to where you don’t know if it’s true or not. Luckily, the SRG has the Guru to keep track of these things!

Now, although the article doesn’t really embark on how the snake may have gotten on the plane in the first place, the research I did on the golden tree snake may help explain.

Golden tree snakes are also known as “flying snakes” because they glide very well, perhaps the best of any snake in the world, and even better than some squirrels and lizards. Golden tree snakes generally have a lime green and black checkered-type patterned back.

They are tree dwellers but can climb anything, even walls. They appear to have a favorite food – the tokay gecko that can reach 12 inches long in adulthood. They are frequently seen eating tokays, although I don’t think these are the ones we see selling car insurance on TV.

This snake’s head is rather flat with a thin neck, an atypical blunt nose, and large eyes which sometimes are red depending on the angle. They can grow up to almost 5 feet and they only get about as thick as 2-3 fingers held together.

Golden tree snakes are mostly found all over Thailand and many countries in Southeast Asia, where they can be found just about anywhere – in an apartment in Bangkok, or climbing bushes several feet at vertical elevations. Typically they can be seen crossing roads, or laying flat out along the stem of a low-lying palm tree branch.

If you’re trying to catch one of these snakes it can be very difficult. They are excellent escape artists, and once they get into a clump of bushes or up a tree – forget it. This probably explains why the Air Frontier official could not trap it immediately after the plane landed. They can disappear in trees so fast it’s unbelieveable. Occasionally you can find them in caves; apparently they like to eat bats, too.

The venom is not very dangerous to humans at all. Just the same, don’t let it bite down on you more than a second or two. Don’t give this snake a chance to inject a lot of venom and you’ll likely be just fine, that’s if you have no allergies to it. There have been no confirmed cases of medically significant envenomation with golden tree snakes.

Their natural enemies are king cobras and kraits, when they can catch them. When they are small, birds will eat them.

So, with all this information, I’ve given you a “heads up” and yet another reason to look up when you’re taking a leisurely stroll out in the woods. Don’t mention it.

The manager on duty, Tracy Brant, didn’t believe his story, and suggested that perhaps he had the wrong restaurant, but Summers insisted he was in the correct place. As Brant tried to confirm the new hire with Denny’s regional headquarters, Summers showed himself into the kitchen and fixed up a meal of burgers and fries.

Summers was in the middle of lunch when Brant reported that Denny’s had confirmed that he did not work there. Summers, who could not pay for his meal, left the restaurant as Brant dialed 911.

Police apprehended him in the parking lot. “This is why you don’t dine and dash, kiddies,” Summers yelled out to diners as officers took him away, police said in a release. Hopefully the judge will take that anti-crime PSA into consideration when weighing a sentence for the man.

Unfortunately, the briefcase Summers was carrying was filled with crack pipes and a stun gun was found holstered under his trenchcoat, so leniency from the courts is unlikely.

He’s since been charged with disorderly conduct and possession of drug paraphernalia, and felony possession of an electronic weapon. Summers was due back in court March 6 for a preliminary hearing.