Airplane crashes have replaced shipwrecks, fires, and acts of God as all-purpose symbols of existential catastrophe. A cross-section of society flying into a mountain is the world in miniature. Here’s a strange one.
On 25 August 2010 a twin-engine passenger jet carrying three crew and nineteen passengers crashed into a house near Bandundu airport in the west of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There were two survivors: a male passenger and a crocodile.
Crocodile On A Plane
It was initially reported that the Filair plane had run out of fuel on its approach. That seemed feasible. Filair was a notoriously ragged Congolese airline, banned in the European Union for its safety record. The lack of any explosion when the plane hit backed up the theory.
A few weeks later the surviving passenger was well enough to talk. The story changed. The real cause of the crash was a crocodile smuggled aboard in a sports bag. Its owner intended to illegally sell it. The crocodile had other ideas and escaped when the plane was airborne. The flight attendant panicked and ran for the cockpit; the other passengers followed her.
The sudden shift in weight destabilised the plane. Sixty-two-year-old Danny Philemotte was at the controls with British pilot Chris Wilson. They couldn’t keep the jet in the air. Wilson had earlier written to his brother calling the Belgian Philemotte, also owner of the airline, so incompetent he shouldn’t have been flying at all.
The crocodile survived the impact but one of the soldiers called to the crash site didn’t like the look of it. He smashed its skull in with a machete. Which is harsh vigilante justice or pest control, depending on your views about animal rights.
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