The early-morning Qantas flight from Cairns to Port Moresby, with 40 passengers on board, was already aloft when the reptilian hitchhiker was spotted on the wing flaps, just a short distance from one of the engines.
One passenger, Robert Weber, was able to video the snake’s journey from his seat on the aircraft.
He said that the snake was tucked away “quite neatly” when it was first seen, but the wind caught the end of its tail, “pulling him straight out.”
“I felt quite sad for it, really. For the remainder of the flight, he was trying to pull himself back into the plane, even though he was fighting against 400 kilometre-an-hour winds. The cabin crew told us that at cruising altitude, it was minus 12 degrees outside - but not even that was able to finish him,” he said.
But the high altitude, cold air and the battering the snake took from being swept against the fuselage took their toll, and the animal was dead on arrival when the plane touched down at Port Moresby.
It has been identified as an amethystine python, a non-venomous snake which is relatively common in Australia and can grow to be more than eight metres in length.
A Qantas spokesman said they had never encountered a python on board one of their aircraft, until now.
“We have never heard of this happening before,” he said. “The python must have taken refuge on the exterior of the aircraft at Cairns Airport overnight before take off.”
Aircraft engineers suggested that the snake had crawled up the landing gear when the plane was parked at Cairns, and found its way into the flap assembly.
It had probably made itself comfortable there until the plane took off and the flaps moved back, when it got caught by the wind and dragged out of its hiding place.
But unlike the 2006 movie Snakes on a Plane, starring Samuel L Jackson, there was no danger to anyone inside the aircraft – experts say the snake would not have been able to get inside the passenger compartment from its hideout on the wing.