A tickling sensation swiftly turned to screaming and tears when a woman flying to Canada with her young daughter looked down and saw a giant, hairy tarantula spider climbing up her leg.
Catherine Moreau felt something brush against her leg while she watched a film on her iPad during the four-hour flight from Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic to Montreal. Whether it was a horror film is not known.
Then the spider appeared, though Moreau didn’t realise at first what it was.
“I brushed [it] away and it started tickling me again. That’s when I noticed the tarantula,” Moreau told CBC News.
“I hit it to get it off me before it bit.”
Moreau has demanded that Air Transat give her a partial refund over the incident.
She says the spider scratched her and the close encounter left her 11-year-old daughter so shocked she “couldn’t breathe” from screaming and crying. The daughter has suffered nightmares since, Moreau says.
The tarantula was reportedly one of two running loose on a Montreal-bound Air Transat flight from Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic.
CBC quoted the flight attendants’ union saying passengers screamed and stood on their seats after learning of the spiders, while flight attendants “did what they could to calm people down”, asking passengers to put on their shoes and cover their ankles.
After the leg-climbing tarantula was captured, the other spider continued to roam the plane until it was caught by a federal agent at Montreal’s Trudeau Airport.
A spider expert told CBC the tarantulas were probably a species called Phormictopus cancerides, commonly known as the Hispaniolan Giant Tarantula and found in the Dominican Republic and Haiti (countries which share the Caribbean island of Hispaniola). The species can grow to 23 centimetres long, or roughly the length of an iPad.
The spider is aggressive, the expert added.
Because the spiders are fairly easy to catch in the wild and their venom is weak, they are sometimes sold as pets. Suspicion lingers that a spider-smuggling passenger may have hidden the spiders in their cabin baggage for resale and the spiders somehow escaped.
Written by Peter Needham