Air-Minded: Contraband Crocodile

Snakes on a plane, meet contraband crocodile.

I read somewhere that highway patrol officers share a sort of urban legend among themselves, that of animal (mostly insect) involvement in otherwise unexplainable fatal single-vehicle crashes. A bee or a hornet distracts the driver, who loses control. Or a fearsome spider. Possibly a venomous snake. The one witness who could testify to what happened is dead. The animal escapes after the crash. Doesn’t seem too far-fetched, now, does it?

Personally, I think a lot of these crashes can be attributed to lit cigarettes dropping into drivers’ crotches.

So how about aircraft mishaps? The story of the escaped crocodile came from the single human survivor of the crash in the Congo. There’s no mention of a crocodile being found in the wreckage (I did see one report saying the croc survived but was dispatched with a machete afterward, but I’m thinking the reporter just made that up). It is true, however, that a sudden shift in a plane’s center of gravity can make control difficult and sometimes impossible.

A quick Google search for “animal involvement in aircraft mishaps” turns up lots of airborne birdstrike incidents and runway animal strikes during takeoff and landing. Nothing other than this one report of an animal loose in the cabin or cockpit. But hey, it could happen.

In 1989 I flew from Guam to Okinawa, with an intermediate refueling stop on a small island near Truk Lagoon, on an ancient Continental Air Micronesia Boeing 727. The cabin was configured for freight forward, passengers aft, separated by wire mesh. The cargo up front included crated pigs and chickens, which we in the back could see, hear, and smell. It would have been interesting had a pig or two gotten loose, but probably not fatal.

When I flew F-15s, I’d occasionally see bees and wasps flying around during ground operations and startup, and wonder how I’d react if one got trapped inside the cockpit and stung me while I was flying. It never happened, thank goodness, but I did one day have a bee light on the outside of the canopy after I’d closed it, and it hung on until almost rotation speed on takeoff. I kept glancing at it during takeoff roll, and somewhere around 100 knots there was a sudden puff and it wasn’t there anymore. I’m certain the reason it was able to cling to the canopy up to that speed was boundary layer separation, but I’m not an aeronautical engineer and can’t say so for sure. Anyway, that bee held on a lot longer than this pigeon.

© 2022, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

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2 thoughts on “Air-Minded: Contraband Crocodile

  • We had a grasshopper infestation here in NE MT this past summer. We blocked one clinging to the windshield (not on the wipers) until we were going over 65mph. Their foot gripping strength is tremendous.

  • So a surviving random pax knows enough about CG issues on takeoff to diagnose the problem? Or does she say ‘the animal escaped and we all ran for the tail’? Let my death be free of pain and irony, oh great Chrom.
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