updated 4/16/2009 8:27:35 AM ET 2009-04-16T12:27:35

Four baby pythons escaped from a container aboard a passenger plane in Australia, leading to a search that forced the cancellation of two flights, the airline said Thursday.

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Twelve non-venomous Smitten pythons were being transported Tuesday on a flight from Alice Springs to Melbourne in the plane's cargo area in a bag inside a plastic foam box with air holes.

When the flight landed, it was discovered that four snakes had escaped from the package, a Qantas spokeswoman said in a statement.

A reptile expert searched for the 6-inch-long snakes but did not find them. It was not known if the snakes were still on the plane or if they had somehow escaped outside after the plane landed.

In the meantime, the plane missed two flights it had been scheduled to fly and the passengers were transferred to other flights.

When the snakes were not found, the airplane was fumigated and it returned to service on Wednesday.

Pythons, which can grow up to three feet long, live in western and central Australia and are not an endangered species.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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