Monty Coles was 3,000 feet in the air when he discovered a stowaway peeking out at him from the plane's instrument panel — a 4 1/2-foot black snake.

Coles had left Charleston earlier for a leisurely flight over the West Virginia countryside last Saturday in his Piper Cherokee and was preparing to land in Gallipolis, Ohio, when the snake revealed itself.

"Nothing in any of the manuals ever described anything like this," the 62-year-old Cross Lanes resident said. But the advice given 25 years earlier from his flight instructor immediately came to mind: "No matter what happens, fly the plane."

An attempt to swat the snake only resulted in it falling to Coles' feet under the rudder pedals. It then darted to the other side of the cockpit.

While maintaining control of the single-engine plane with one hand, Coles grabbed the reptile behind its head with his other.

"There was no way I was letting that thing go. It coiled all around my arm, and its tail grabbed hold of a lever on the floor and started pulling," Coles said.

The next step was to radio for emergency landing clearance.

"They came back and asked what my problem was. I told them I had one hand full of snake and the other hand full of plane. They cleared me in."

After a smooth landing, Coles posed for pictures with the snake, then let it loose.

"That snake resides in Ohio now," he said. "I wasn't about to bring it home. I don't mind snakes, but I sure like to know where they are."

Coles said he was lucky his usual travel companions, his wife and dachshund, were not on the flight.

"If my wife had been in the plane, I wouldn't have a wife, a plane or myself," Coles said. "I don't know what might have happened if Killer had been in the plane, but it sure would have been a lot more exciting."