A weird rumor circulates on internet forums and podcasts about a 15-meter (50-foot) snake that waits in the depths of Central Africa, ready to lunge out of the jungle and strike passing helicopters if it feels threatened. It’s probably certainly bullshit, like many cryptozoology stories, but it’s a great narrative.
Remy Van Lierde, a Belgian Air Force Colonel who served in WWII, made the assertion in 1980 during an appearance on the British television show Mysterious World, hosted by famed science fiction writer Arthur C Clarke.
Van Lierde said that in 1959 while flying over the Belgian-occupied Congo (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) by helicopter, he met a massive greenish-brown snake. Van Lierde claimed that as an experienced pilot, he was particularly proficient at judging the scale of items on the ground from the air.
“I’d say the snake I saw there was close to 50 feet long,” he told the show.
The helicopter swooped down to within 9 meters (30 feet) of the snake below, at which point it “raised up” its neck by roughly 3 meters (10 feet) and eyed the chopper for a bite, according to him.
“I could very clearly see the head,” he added, describing it as a “very large horse” with a huge triangle jaw.
“I believe – and I believe – that if I had been within its range, it would have struck me.” I’d guess the head was at least 2 feet wide and 3 feet long. “It could have easily eaten a man,” Van Lierde claimed.
Along with this firsthand report, Van Lierde was able to capture an image of the scene. However, the image was shot in black and white and is a touch blurry.
Van Lierde, a well-respected air force veteran, is widely regarded as a reputable source with no apparent motivation to fabricate such a story. However, it appears quite unlikely that this mythological snake is quietly living in the Congo Basin.
The African Rock Python (Python sebae) is the largest snake known to inhabit in the area. They normally reach heights of more than 3 meters (10 feet), while there have been reports of specimens reaching 6 meters (20 feet).
If someone claimed to have seen a 15-meter (50-foot) snake, they’d have to present some very strong evidence, which Van Lierde’s report lacks.
However, his account of the train-sized snake is not the only one of a giant cryptid discovered in the Congo Basin. One of the most well-known is the swamp monster mokele-mbembe, which is claimed to resemble a long-necked sauropod dinosaur. Some believe that this mystery creature is a survivor of the asteroid that wiped out non-avian dinosaurs some 66 million years ago.
Most scientists feel that mokele-mbembe sightings are more likely to be elephants or black rhinos, large-bodied species that may be mistaken for prehistoric beasts if masked by dense jungles.
Van Lierde’s gigantic python is likely to have been an African Rock Python – or, who knows, the serpent-like neck of a furious sauropod.