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Monty Python in the Back Seat

Posted 3 years 137 days ago ago by Randy Mains

During this time of social distancing and staying in place and away from people as much as possible, I find it’s also a time of reflection on my career so far.  An incident in my garden recently reminded me of an occurrence that took place when I was flying in Papua New Guinea. 

            I recalled the incident when I was clearing out some fallen branches from under a hedge in my yard, when suddenly I jumped when something resembling a snake unexpectedly popped up under my chin.  I was pleased to see that it wasn’t a snake at all but simply a long dried branch that sprung up giving me a fright.

            Thinking back, the incident in New Guinea, however, did include a snake, a VERY BIG snake that someone had thrown into my helicopter without my knowledge.  When I think back at the possible ramifications of that person’s action it still gives me a shudder.

            The ‘snake incident’ happened during the course of my job flying the Jet Ranger in Papua New Guinea doing seismic survey work out of our basecamp on the Turama River.  I met some real characters working there as line cutters—guys like Russ, Cookie and Tom Dooley. They were long-haired wild men with a good sense of humor and possessing a great sense of adventure. They were also not beneath having a bit of fun with one another. The trouble is, when they had fun with one another, someone was often caught in the middle.

            I was caught in the middle one day when I landed on one of the wooden helipads. Russ walked over to my running helicopter holding a big burlap sack with something obviously heavy inside. Written on the bag in black Magic Marker it read, ‘To Cookie, with love from Russ.’ He threw the bag in the back of my empty helicopter then yelled to me over the sound of the engine, “Make sure Cookie gets this, OK?”

            I gave him a thumbs up sign and mouthed, “OK.”

            I took off and flew over the jungle, just me and that big burlap bag in the back of my helicopter, for twenty-five minutes, landed back at base and shut down.

            Cookie approached and I told him, “Russ sent you something. It’s in a burlap bag in the back seat..”

            “Oh, shit,” he said. “Every time Russ sends me something it’s alive.”

            “Alive!” I said alarmed. “I’ve just been flying for twenty-five minutes over the jungle with nowhere to land. What is it?”

            “We’ll find out soon enough.”

            Cookie grabbed the bag out of the helicopter and muscled it back behind one of the native long houses. There was an enclosed fenced off area with chicken wire. He held the bag over the waist-high fence to let whatever it was out of the bag. After a few seconds I saw a head emerge, the head of a very big snake. It was at that point that several of the natives who had come to watch turned and ran away.

            As the snake slithered out of the bag the body kept coming and coming and coming until all fifteen feet of him was out of the bag. It was a python, a fifteen-foot-long python.

            “Is he nuts?” I said. “What if that thing had gotten out of that bag when I was flying?”

           The possible scenario of what could have happened that day gives me the creeps. I promised myself from that day that forward there was no way I was ever going let Russ throw anything on my helicopter again, that is, unless I could see what it was with my own eyes.

Randy Mains is an author, public speaker, and a CRM/AMRM consultant who works in the helicopter industry after a long career of aviation adventure. He currently serves as chief CRM/AMRM instructor for Oregon Aero. He may be contacted at [email protected].