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Crocodiles on a Plane

The perils of flying in the Congo.

6:35 PM, Oct 21, 2010 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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The Telegraph reports "the rest of the story" on a fatal airline crash in the Congo on August 25 that killed 20, sparing only one passenger:

According to the inquiry report and the testimony of the only survivor, the crash happened because of a panic sparked by the escape of a crocodile hidden in a sports bag.

It has now emerged that the crash was caused by the concealed reptile escaping and causing a stampede in the cabin, throwing the aircraft off-balance.

A lone survivor apparently relayed the bizarre tale to investigators.

The crocodile survived the crash, only to be dispatched with a blow from a machete. 

The tale is actually not quite as bizarre as the reporter thinks. The Scrapbook commends to you William Langeweische's 10,000-word report, "Congo from the Cockpit," which appeared in the July 2007 issue of Vanity Fair and is apparently not available online. It is, however, well worth your taking the trouble to find at your local library. Here is a short passage to give the flavor of the article; note well the reference to crocodiles:

Flying is cheap [in the Congo], all things considered. Truth be known, it requires no government, and very little infrastructure. You can scrape out a runway anywhere, and do it practically overnight. For airplanes like the Let 410, 1,000 yards is long enough unless rain has turned the dirt to mud. Outbound to the bush, the Munshis transport manufactured goods of the sort they once wholesaled to the Kinshasa market. Candles, sandals, and baby baths. Baseball caps and ballpoint pens. Lightweight pots and pans. On the return flights they transport whatever the villagers can provide. Pondu most regularly. But also smoked fish from the rivers and lakes, smoked monkeys from the forests, and crocodiles which are bound in tape and very much alive. The crocodiles have a certain crocodilian odor. They are four or five feet long. When they are loaded into the cabin, some passengers grow wary. The crocodiles themselves do not looked pleased. Their tail meat is sold as a delicacy in the markets. They may have primitive minds, but they rightly resist being air-shipped and slaughtered. Just before I arrived at N'Dolo, one of them in a Let got free in flight, crawled forward through the open access to the cockpit, got underneath the captain's seat, and started thrashing around. Not to be cruel, but I'm sorry I missed the scene. I doubt whether the captain kept his feet on the rudder pedals. I imagine he sat cross-legged on his seat. The landing was a gift to the co-pilot. The thrashing continued down final approach. The Let is ground-steered with a tiller on the captain's side, well above the reach of crocodiles under the seat. The airplane parked at Business Aviation, and the pilots, like the passengers, got out fast. The ground crew argued about who would go inside. Asil Munshi did, and laughed because it turned out that the poor creature's mouth had remained bound.

An online photo feature that accompanied this report can be seen here.

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