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‘Snakes on a Plane’… the Congolese way

December 14, 2010

Don’t you hate it when something sad happens, but it’s actually kind of funny, but you feel bad laughing, but you can’t really help it?  Like the Darwin Awards, for example.

Well, a small plane crashed in DR Congo a few months ago- a sad event, caused by very unexpected circumstances.  We had been warned against flying on most of the domestic flights here, as they don’t necessarily adhere to international safety standards.  And while we thought at first that this stance might be overly cautious (what could go wrong?), we see now they weren’t kidding…

(Thanks Sebastian for sending us the link, and for the brilliant Samuel L Jackson reference)

Details from

(Oct. 22) — A crocodile on the loose is being blamed for the crash of a small plane in the Democratic Republic of Congo that killed 20 people after passengers panicked and stampeded down the aisle.

A lone survivor told investigators that a passenger had smuggled the reptile, whose size wasn’t noted, on board in a sports bag. It somehow got loose on a domestic flight from the capital of Kinshasa to a regional airport in Bandundu, Britain’s Daily Telegraph reported.

The panic started when a terrified stewardess “hurried” toward the cockpit, followed by passengers. That threw the small aircraft off balance, sending it into a field of thatched huts “despite the desperate efforts of the pilot,” The Sun tabloid reported, citing an article originally published in Jeune Afrique, a French-language news magazine.

The crocodile survived the Aug. 25 crash but was killed with a machete on the ground. Details of the accident are only now emerging.

The whole incident is pretty bizarre.   And it is certainly sadly ironic that after surviving abduction, imprisonment in a duffle bag, and a plane crash, the crocodile was killed by the rescuers on the ground.  Poor guy.  Although it is good to know that not all crocs on planes suffer this fate- some are met with more mercy.

Apparently, smuggling crocodiles is not a rarity. In a 2007 article in Vanity Fair titled “Congo From the Cockpit,” author William Langeweische describes how crocs are often brought on board for transport to local markets because their tails are considered a delicacy, according to an excerpt posted online by the The Weekly Standard.

Last year, a baby crocodile measuring 1 foot escaped from a passenger’s luggage and wandered an Egypt Air flight from Abu Dhabi to Cairo, causing pandemonium onboard, the BBC reported. The croc was eventually captured by crew members. No one claimed the infant reptile, and it was donated to a local zoo.

Ah yes, the sweet taste of crocodile tail stew- apparently a quintessential dish on the menu of any fine Congolese restaurant in Kinshasa, or so we’ve heard.  We’ll let you know how it tastes once we’ve tried it (am I joking… ?)

And in case you were wondering what it might have looked like on the plane if all of the passengers were panicked digital avatars, here is a (somewhat insensitive) video clip:

So, morals of the story?

  • #1 – When you smuggle a crocodile on a plane, put it in a metal (or even plastic) container, not fabric (croc=sharp teeth=shred fabric)
  • #2 – When a smuggled crocodile gets loose on your airplane, stay seated.  And maybe lift your feet off the ground a bit so it can’t bite your ankles.  

But crocodiles are not the only animals that ride on vehicles in the DR Congo, and other animal-vehicle relationships are not nearly as injurious.  For example, a few weekends ago, we noticed half a dozen or so goats enjoying the fresh breeze and open air from the luggage rack on top of a small bus/van.  Of course, they were likely on their way to the market to be sold as dinner, but at least they had one last invigorating taste of freedom at 30 mph.

Goats on a Bus (I took the picture from far away, so I labeled it for clarity)

I can’t wait to find out what other animals ride on vehicles here.  Any guesses?


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