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Snake on plane grounds Qantas flight

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A tiny snake as slender as a pen forced the grounding of a Japan-bound Qantas flight in the Australian city of Sydney overnight, stranding hundreds of passengers.AFP/File

A tiny snake as slender as a pen forced the grounding of a Japan-bound Qantas flight in the Australian city of Sydney overnight, stranding hundreds of passengers.

The non-venomous reptile, about eight inches (20 centimetres) long, was found near the doorway of a Boeing 747-400 bound for Tokyo on Sunday night, a Qantas spokeswoman told AFP.

"The snake was taken to quarantine to determine where it came from," she said.

The plane had been on the tarmac in Sydney for most of Sunday after completing a flight from Singapore, and the snake was found by air crew before any passengers boarded.

It was uncertain where the reptile had come from but the Department of Agriculture has identified it as a Mandarin ratsnake which is mainly found in Asia.

All 370 passengers were booked into hotels overnight and a replacement flight left Sydney on Monday morning.

It was the second snake incident for Qantas this year. A three-metre (nine foot) python hitched a ride from the tropical Australian city of Cairns to Papua New Guinea's Port Moresby in January.

The python had been tucked into the plane's wing before takeoff, and amazed passengers watched from the window as it engaged in a life-or-death struggle to maintain its grip in fierce winds and zero temperatures.

It was still on the aircraft when it landed in PNG but had died during the journey.

A freight pilot was forced to make an emergency landing in northern Australia in April 2012 after a snake slithered from the dashboard of his plane.

Australia is home to 20 of the world's 25 most venomous snakes, including the entire top ten, according to the University of Melbourne's Australia Venom Research Unit.