by Tulio R. Soto
Kindly contributed by the Latin American Aviation Historical Society (LAAHS). See their website for more: www.laahs.com
There's an old aviation saying: "there are bold pilots and there are old pilots, but there are no old, bold pilots."
You have to have a great degree of daring in order to fly, in the first place. But also, you must have more than that in order to make it in Latin America. Flying conditions are primitive in many locations, radio aids non-existent or barely functional, weather changes suddenly, equipment is poorly maintained. And this is nowadays! Just imagine what it was like, during the first half of the 20th Century...
The subject of this document was born on 1 August, 1899 in Cedar Valley, near Springfield, Missouri and was named James Crawford Angel. He encompassed the thirst for adventure and unfulfilled dreams of many during his lifetime. He traveled through places that most people would not even dream of seeing. But we know about Jimmie Angel and his exploits, because he is credited with having discovered the world's highest waterfall, which was named after him: "El Salto Angel" in Spanish, or Angel Falls and which he accidentally discovered, or so, he claimed, in the Venezuelan interior in 1933 when he was looking for a fortune in gold . . . problem is, that there is enough evidence in Venezuela to indicate that many other explorers before Angel, had already been in that region, for example, the Venezuelan explorers Jose Berti, Morón, Lezama, Simon Moreno, General Salas, Cayetano Garcia . . . who during the time where "balata" (rubber) was being exploited in the region, worked in the slopes of the Auyantepui.
Capitan Felix Cardona Puig, on a letter dated 13 July 1965 to Guillermo Jose Schael, a columnist for "El Universal" newspaper in Venezuela, affirmed: "In 1927, Juan Mundo, his son and myself, explored the slopes of the Auyantepui for over three months, and attempted to climb it without success..." Cardona also stated that in 1936, while he was in the area, Jimmie Angel landed his airplane, accompanied by a Mr. Mitchmann, who was either the owner of the Flamingo or had paid for most of it. They were searching for an airplane from the Linea Aeropostal Venezolana, that had disappeared in the area of the Rio Cuyuni. Angel was looking for gold, and had interested Mitchmann. Since Cardona was familiar with the zone, he agreed to go with them to search for Jimmie's fabled river of gold. Of course, they could not find it.
Cardona claims that it was during one of those flights when he showed Jimmie the now famous waterfall, and Cardona shoot from the air, the first pictures of the waterfall ever shot. Mr. Mitchmann became aware of Angel's fantasies regarding the existence of gold, and suggested for Cardona to climb to the top of the mountain. When he returned, Cardona informed Mitchmann that there was no gold up there, and Mitchmann, upset, returned to Ciudad Bolivar, where he transfered his ownership of the airplane to an attorney. Eventually, Jimmie Angel found new partners, among them Gustavo Heny, who agreed to pay for repairs to the airplane as well as for an expedition to go looking for gold.
* The Region
The area where the Auyantepui is located, the Guayana Shield, is the oldest geological formation in Venezuela. The Gran Sabana, is dotted with strange mesas, the largest of which is called the Auyantepui; the area at the top of this geological formation covers 700 square kilometers (about 252 square miles). The area, so far removed from the rest of populated areas, so wild and full of mystery, was the set up for Arthur Conan Doyle's work of fiction, "The Lost World." It is from this mesa, where the river that forms Salto Angel, flows. The Salto, or falls, have been measured at 807 meters of height (2, 648 ft.). Nearby, the second longest free water drop in the world is also found at the Matawitepui, also known as the Mount Kukenan, measuring 610 meters (2,001 ft.) This mesa, the tallest of them all, reaches a height of 2, 810 meters (9, 133 ft.)
The region is still to this day, extremely isolated from the rest of Venezuela; and the isolation and the height of the mesas (tepuis) has allowed a very special eco-system to develop and many species of plants and animals are found there, species that have followed a different evolutionary path than similar species that can be found just a few miles away. The extreme heat of the day, gives way to temperatures that at night often fall below freezing. The village of Canaima, located at the North West corner of the Canaima National Park, is one of the jump-off points for visitors to this region, and it can only be reached by air. Tour operators have established several camps for visitors, who come for the standard four day visit to the region and the Salto Angel. Usually, tourists will fly over the falls, which are located about 30 miles (51 km) from Canaima, or stay longer and take an overland trip to the base of the falls, with the possibility of climbing the mesa, on foot. Many Venezuelan explorers have visited this region even before the Falls were "discovered" by Jimmie Angel; commercial explotation of balata (rubber) was undergoing even before Angel ever set foot in Venezuela.
Whether it was because of his father was authoritarian, or because Jimmie was unruly, fact is he ran away from home when he was 15, his father hot in his heels, in pursuit. It is not known whether or not, dad caught up with Jimmie. In 1915, Jimmie crossed into Canada, and joined the R.F.C. (Royal Flying Corps) and went to England, and later to France, where afterwards he claimed to have shot down five German airplanes plus three observation balloons and thus, becoming an ace. According to researchers specializing in WWI air combat, his victories numbered more likely as two or possibly three airplanes, and two balloons. Jimmie would continue, throughout his life, to portray himself as an ace.
This was not as bad as it sounds, since during the years after WWI, many pilots who performed stunts and "barnstormed" the USA and other countries, had to use one sort of gimmick or another, in order to bring the paying spectators to see them fly; you had to "make" a reputation to better sell yourself to the paying public.
Whatever the truth behind his aerial victories might be, Jimmie in fact, served in Europe and flew as a member of the R.F.C. His duties with the R.F.C. ended when he was discharged from service, while assigned to a unit in Capetown, South Africa. His friend Joel Ince who was also a pilot, accompanied Angel on a trip that took them to the then Siam (Thailand), Cambodia and the French Indochina (Viet-Nam), where they spent some time and then made it back to England. Once in London, Jimmie spent all the money he had, on women and booze while having a good time in the process. When money ran out, and economic reality set in, he signed a contract to fly in China, with the North China Goverment for Sun, who was a warlord in the province of Kansu. Sun was just one of many warlords operating in China, and should not be confused with Sun-Yat-Sen, an error that has been made in the past.
We find then Angel, not yet 20 years of age, and already commanding his "own" air force, while based at an airfield called Wei-Wei, straddling the ancient Marco Polo's silk route. Five World War I surplus airplanes were the full strength of the air force, but only two of the five, ever managed to get into the air. Regarding his airfield in Wei-Wei, Angel would later tell people that "it bordered the ends of the earth in three directions, and faced hell on the fourth," with the fourth direction being the Gobi, one of the most desolate regions on earth. While flying in China, Angel decided to go and look for something that would become a recurring theme during his life: Gold.
He went to Tibet, where he prospected for gold on the foothills of the Himalayas during 1920, accompanied by a Russian Jew, who was known just as "The Jew." Their sojourn looking for gold came to a short end, when bandits robbed them of all their belongings, forcing their return to Wei-Wei. Their return to Wei-Wei would prove to be unlucky for, because in October of 1920, a gang of mounted bandits completely destroyed the airfield and decapitated the Jew and many others there. Jimmie blamed himself for the Wei-Wei massacre, and feeling dejected and depressed over the incident, planned his return to the United States.
A few days before his date of departure, malaria struck him. He was transferred, by litter and boat, to the Rockefeller Clinic in Shanghai, where after a lengthy stay, he emerged as little more than skin and bones, and embittered with his life so far, but also determined to live life on his own terms.
He would rarely discuss his experiences in China, and when queried about them, he would only say that he "flew for a warlord" or that he "dropped home-made bombs on desert bandits." The only thing from his China experiences that stayed with him for all of his life, was his trip to Tibet and the search for gold. Searching for gold would be Jimmie Angel's obsession, and would remain with him until his death in 1956, in Panama. During his barnstorming years, Angel would make sometimes vague references to what he called the "Gold of the Lamas." Venezuela would soon beckon, and always, always, the magic gold.
A semi-fabled personality, identified as John McCracken, an old prospector who Jimmie claimed, met at the "Bar Central", in Panama City in 1921 hired Jimmie, to take him to a stream, according to some versions, or to a river of gold, according to others. This river or stream of gold, depending on who told the story, was located on a mesa, in the Gran Sabana area of Venezuela. McCracken purportedly paid Jimmie $3,000 to take him to this secret location, which McCracken had supposedly discovered some time before, and at the same time made Jimmie to pledge never to reveal the location of the site, or to return to it alone, without McCracken.
McCracken told Jimmie about how he had found this plethora of gold nuggets in a pool that formed at the bottom of a waterfall that was shrouded in mist; and wondering how those nuggets had come to lay at the pool, wanted to explore the river from which the falls were born, the river located on top of this imposing mesa in the middle of the Venezuelan Jungle. McCracken had explored the site, and when his Indian workers abandoned him, had to walk, swim and crawl his way out of the "Green Hell" that the jungle was, until managed to make it out to civilization, and eventually to Panama. He wanted to go back to find the river, the gold, and offered to hire Angel to fly him back to the wilderness, saving him a long and strenuous walk. He demanded one thing from Angel: a vow of secrecy, not to reveal to anyone, the location of the source of the gold that so much occupied his mind.
But McCracken was not relying entirely on Jimmie's vow of secrecy, and when they flew deep into the Venezuelan jungle, make Jimmie to follow a circuitous route, evidently with the aim of confusing him as to the precise location of the river of gold, eventually landing on the top of a mesa, besides a stream; the mesa was located on an un-mapped area of the country. Both Jimmy and McCracken failed to notice the water falling from an underground river, about three hundred feet below the rim of the plateau, some distance from where they were picking up gold nuggets. At this location, McCracken is supposed to have gone alone and picked up about one hundred pounds of gold nuggets according to some versions, and 75 pounds according to others.
Once back in Panama, McCracken supposedly sold the nuggets for about US$27,000. McCracken allegedly returned to the United States, where he died four years later. Some versions of events claim that the river of gold did not exist, but instead, McCracken had smuggled the gold from Peru, and hidden it in that remote location, for later retrieval.
When he felt the end of his life approaching, McCracken had telegraphed Jimmie and asked him to come to see him to his house, in Denver, Colorado. He told Jimmie "The mountain is all yours now," but due to his illness or other unknown circumstances, was unable to provide Jimmie with the precise location of the river of gold. This meeting released Jimmie from his secrecy pledge to McCracken, so he then began looking for the secret place on his own.
During the late 1920's or early 1930's, Jimmie engaged in a series of attempted and some successful long distance flight records, and also supposedly flew a Zenith Albatross on a non-stop flight to Guatemala, as we will see later. In 1935, Jimmie managed to convince F.I. "Shorty" Martin, a geologist with the Case Pomeroy Mining Company, to obtain financial support from the company, so they could go looking for the river of gold.
During one of his many flights over the expanses of Venezuela's "La Gran Sabana," they landed on the Kamarata Valley, and on 25 March, 1935 they discovered a canyon, the Auyantepui Canyon, known nowadays as the "Cañón del Diablo" (The Devil's Canyon). While flying around a mountain, Jimmie reportedly saw the mists of a waterfall, which cascaded down the boulders into the jungle, many, many feet below; Jimmie later said: "I saw a waterfall that almost made me lose control of the plane. The cascade came from the Sky! But still, I didn't have any luck in landing." Flying down to the foot of the cascade, and then up, and using his altimeter, Jimmie estimated the height of the fall to be more than 3000 feet. He had never seen or heard, of such a magnificent and tall water fall.
At first, he tried to keep silent about his discovery, since his stories about all that gold in the river, had only brought him mocking laughter and looks of disbelief; Jimmie was not going to provide his detractors with more ammunition to use against him! But, he was unable to keep telling about his discovery, to his friends Hall and Dennison, who true to form, laughed his claim off . . . until one day, when both agreed to go up with him, on the airplane, to look at the fall. Their disbelief soon gave way to gasps of admiration and the realization that Jimmie had been telling them the truth all along . . . at least, about the falls.
Jimmie repeated this story so many times, to anyone who proved willing, too drunk or available, to listen. Of course, with the telling and retelling, details changed, and when people re-told the story, facts or their lack thereof, changed constantly. This changed versions and exaggerations, no matter who told them, were usually attributed to Jimmie, and he was chastised and ridiculed for the stories. Some people believed him, and some didn't.
One of the believers was Marie Angel, nee Sanders, Jimmie's first wife. Another person who believed Jimmie, was Gustavo Cabuya Heny, who accompanied Jimmie on an expedition in 1937. They went in by land, and reportedly climbed to the top of the mountain, in search for adequate landing sites.
* The Gold
According to Jimmie, McCracken had had a partner when he first discovered the gold river in Venezuela. After their discovery, they crossed the sabana and made it to Ciudad Bolivar, where his partner died. McCracken went to Caracas, where he experienced unspecified problems with the government of dictator Gomez, and was forced to flee to Panama in 1921, where eventually he would meet Jimmie.
Many people chose to disbelieve Angel's stories. Many people claimed that McCracken was nothing but an invention of Jimmie's.
It was however a Mr. "Shorty" Martin, who went to Ciudad Bolivar and found in effect, records pertaining to the death of McCracken's partner, thus providing proof of the existence of this until then, almost unbelievable character.
Jimmie and McCracken left Venezuela in late 1921, and returned to Panama. Angel headed to Mexico, where he flew payroll for two mining companies (he was issued Mexican Commercial License No. 144, by the Department of Aerial Communications), working for "Lineas Aereas Occidentales" and later, for the "Compañía Aeronáutica del Sur" (in Villa Hermosa); reportedly, on 20 August 1931, Jimmie flew the airplane "Solar MS-1" (belonging to the Pizá Company) from San Diego, California, to Villahermosa; this particular airplane would be flown by him while with the Compañía Aeronáutica del Sur. During this phase of his life, he came face to face with Monte Michael, who was back then a notorious bandit. Michael robbed Jimmie, but spared his life. On a different occasion, Jimmie got rid of a would-be bandit, when he rolled the airplane and the bandit fell from 5,000 feet, to his death.
Jimmie and a companion crashed the airplane on the Sierra Madre, and were stranded in the wilderness. Jimmie returned to the United States, where together with his brothers, began barnstorming. One of the wing-walkers of his barnstorming act, caught his eye, a beautiful red-head named Virginia Martin, who would become Jimmie's first wife two weeks later, in Coffeyville, Kansas. Their barnstorming act would take them to many places in the United States, during many years to come.
The Angel Burns Flying Circus, doing "all kind of Commercial Flying" was Jimmie and Virginia's breadwinner, flying a Curtiss Jenny biplane. Jimmie flew as a stunt pilot on two of the most famous aviation films of that era, "Hell's Angels" and "Wings," but his claim of having also flown in "Dawn Patrol" was not true. It is reported that during the filming of Hell's Angels, Jimmie refused to perform a stunt, and the pilot who did, died during the performance of the stunt.
So, between 1921 and 1933, Jimmie flew not only in the United States, but also in other countries of the continent. In 1926, on behalf of the British government, he undertook a flight to Chile and Peru, to sell fighter planes to the air arms of those countries. Some reports have him as having served as a flight instructor for the Peruvian government. Jimmie's self-claimed aviation accomplishments, included having had as a pilot student, none other than Chang-Kai-Shek, and also to have flown for the "air arm" (?) of Augusto Cesar Sandino, in Nicaragua. His Venezuelan experiences, the lure of the gold, were always in his mind. He would head back to South America at a time when he and Virginia had just established a feeder airline into Mexico. All those years of hard work, of sacrifices, were beginning to show some returns, and financial success seemed to be within their reach.
As we have already seen, gold had a powerful hold on Jimmie, and he attempted many times to get the elusive metal, one way or another. In 1927, Jimmie and his friend "Tex" Niltac, went to Mexico supposedly to look for a "cave full" of loot, that Jimmie Angel had hidden for Pancho Villa. They of course, did not find it.
Tex Niltac would attempt many years later (1955) to gather data for a Jimmie Angel's biography; after several days interviewing him in an hotel room in Los Angeles, Jimmie left the room, saying that he was going to get a pack of cigarettes, but he never returned to the hotel.
The year of 1928 seems to have been a very busy year for Angel; following on the famous 1927 trans-Atlantic flight by Charles Lindbergh, many pilots attempted to establish new distance records; some succeeded, some did not. According to Russ Plehinger's book on long distance records (see the credits section for more information on this book), there was a projected flight (never made) from either California or from New York City, to Peiping (Peking or Beijing) China, to be undertaken by Tien Lai Huah, James C. Angel and H.J. "Jack" Lynch.
February of 1928 saw the beginning of the preparations for a projected Flight record, to cover non-stop, the 1,700 miles distance from Fresno, California to Mexico City, Mexico. Pilots would have been James C. Angel and Presho Stephenson (who was an official for the Beacon Airways Company), and the aircraft to be used would have been a Fokker D-VII, powered by a 300hp Hall-Scott engine.
The enterprise was to be sponsored by F.W. Hemingway, from Fresno. During April 17 - 19, 1928, Jimmie attempted a 7,000 mile long flight from Fresno, California, to Cabo de Hornos (Cape Horn) in Chile; the trip was sponsored by the Pruden-San Diego Airplane Company; the general idea behind bringing the photographer was to take as many pictures as possible and to shoot film, to document the journey, and record all the landings they made, and convert all this into favorable publicity for the Pruden-San Diego Airplane Company. The airplane employed was a Bach, registered 3431 and powered by a Hisso engine of 180hp. The proposed route included stops in Veracruz, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina and Chile, and with the local flying to be conducted at different locations, the estimated length of the trip would be three months. They would fly South, down the West Coast of Mexico, Central America and to Panama, where they would cross the isthmus and then fly down the East Coast of South America, until reaching their destination; their objective there would be to photograph and map the Straits of Magellan from the air. The plan for the return trip was to fly up the West Coast of South America, and when reaching Panama, would cross the isthmus again, and fly on Central America and Mexico's East Coast, until reaching Texas where their adventure would end.
The flight started on April 17th, at 05:37 AM. Passengers were Presho Stephenson and William C. Benson, for the first leg of the trip, from Fresno California to Guaymas, Mexico. In Guaymas, they would pick up William Beery, the photographer. The plan was to fly around the Guaymas area, to do some aerial prospecting for the Copelitas Mining Company. Not soon after their departure, they encountered problems with a broken oil line, which forced a landing near the town of Altar, in Sonora, Mexico. After repairs had been effected, shortly after take off, they discovered that the gasoline pump on the engine was defective, and they were using more gasoline than expected, so Angel had to ride in an ox cart all night long, until he reached a gold mine, where he could obtain more gasoline. Eventually they made it to Empalme (Guaymas), Sonora and met with William Bert, the expedition photographer.
Their adventure encountered many problems, Mexican customs officials detained the airplane twice (probably looking for the infamous "mordida" or kickback), while the photographic equipment was seized for"non-payment of customs duties." Reports of Jimmie being hospitalized with malaria, discouraged by mounting expenses and many delays, the financial backers of this venture, sent a message via cable to Jimmie, who was already in Panama, canceling their financial support and instructing him to return to the USA.
Back to our story: Jimmie met D.H. Curry, who was a mining engineer conducting prospecting work in Mexico, for the Santa Ana Mining Company of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Jimmie's fast talk and insistence, persuaded Curry to seek money from his employer, so the two of them could go to Venezuela and look for . . . gold. The Santa Ana Mining Company ended up investing around $25,000 into the Angel-Curry gold venture. Jimmie had promised that it would yield "nuggets of gold . . . as big as my fists."
During the year 1930, Jimmie was also involved in 5 endurance flights: - September 21, 1930 - September 25-26, 1930 - October 1-3, 1930 - October 5-6, 1930 - December 15, 1930 The unsuccessful endurance flights of September and October 1930 were attempted using the single-engine Albatross Z-5 "Pride of Hollywood" airplane, NR-331E, with Jimmy Angel as part of the two-man refueling crew. For the 15 December 1930, Jimmie was the pilot, and this time he flew a three-engine airplane called then the "Schofield Albatross," registered as NX-3622. The flight was not successful; the New York Sun Newspaper, in its Monday, December 15, 1930 edition, reported that a 20 year old girl, by the name of Betty Brown, hid herself in the back of the airplane, forcing the suspension of the endurance flight, after only 25 minutes in the air. The report indicates that the airplane took off with a crew of five, but had difficulty remaining "on an even keel" (read, straight and level flight). A search of the airplane revealed a stowaway, Miss Brown.
Another attempt at the record was to be undertaken the next day; nothing else was heard regarding Miss Brown.
The decade of the 1930s saw Jimmie returning three times to the Venezuelan back country. The first one was the Angel-Curry attempt, and then two subsequent trips in 1935 and in 1937. The Washington Herald Newspaper, published a picture of Angel, on its Saturday, December 3, 1931 edition. The photo shows Angel standing next to an airplane, surrounded by artifacts; the photo caption reads: "Ancient - Jimmie Angel looks over some old relics he gathered on a 3,000 mile aerial exploration trip in the remote sections of Mexico. He is shown at Los Angeles Airport with his stuff, which includes armor which some Conquistador may have worn . . ."
A short news item published Saturday, January 30, 1932 in the Newark Ledger, of Newark, New Jersey, dateline Mexico City Jan. 29: U.S. Plane Feared Down on Ocean. The report indicates that dispatches from Salina Cruz led to believe that an airplane piloted by Jimmie Angel or by Joseph Glass, might be down at sea, off Morro Ayuta. The report continues, indicating that an aviator had landed at Salina Cruz, and asked for assistance for another airplane, which had alighted in the sea. The report states that Angel and Glass, together with their wives and other passengers had left Mexico City earlier in the week, flying two airplanes and bound for VillaHermosa; their plans were to go to Chiapas to transport coffee by air, from the interior regions.
It was during the first trip, in 1933 when Angel and Curry sighted a waterfall, that was "at least a mile high" as noted in Jimmie's log book. Later on, when Jimmie met with Virginia in Mexico City, and mentioned in passing, the "mile high" waterfall, but by all accounts, considered his trip, a failure. The discovery of what later would be named "Salto Angel" or Angel Falls (also called Churun-Meru and Parekupai-Meru in the local indian language), happened in fact, in 1933. This is in contradiction to published accounts elsewhere, claiming the discovery as having taken place in 1935 or 1937. The exact date is provided by Jimmie Angel's log books, part of Captain Marvin Gigsby's collection.
By 1935, Jimmie had a new wife. A red head; Marbi Marie Angel (nee Sanders) was her name. Together, they made the second of the three trips of the 1930s. Again, he went looking for the mesa on the sabana, the one that did not appear in any maps, and thus, according to many people, if it did not appear in the maps, it "did not exist."
Jimmie was by now, well known in Caracas; he was a picturesque caracter, but his mile high waterfall was considered to be just another tall tale.
In 1937, Jimmie and his wife Marie, and Gustavo Heny and Capitan Felix Cardona Puig (Capitan Cardona was a man with vast experience in the region, having lived in and explored the Sabana area since the 1920s) together with Heny's servant, Miguel Delgado, (a mason hired by Heny from construction work in Caracas) came up with an audacious plan to land an airplane, the All Metal Flamingo "El Rio Caroni" (NC-9487) on top of the mesa, next to the "river of gold".
The Rio Caroni was an eight seat aircraft, powered by a 450 hp engine. Capitan Cardona, according to his widow, had first reached the summit of Auyantepui on 12 May 1937. Three months later, he had shown Gustavo Heny, the way to the top. She also asserted that Capitan Cardona had first been at the Churun-Meru in 1927 - 1928 during his first expedition to the Guayana, when he reached this mountain. Lack of supplies impeded his ascent to the summit, so he camped at the base of the mountain, a massive formation erupting from the plains of the sabana, and covering an area of about 70 square miles.
Previous reports by Ernesto Sanchez La Cruz to "Casa Blohm," in 1910 state that he had seen a really tall waterfall on the Churun river, and the news were communicated to the Venezuelan Government. The mesa's name in the local Indian dialect, was "Auyantepui" meaning: Devil's Mountain; its surface was crisscrossed by crevasses, there were swampy areas, there were cliffs and the vegetation was wild and tangled up.
This has made critics denounce Jimmie's plan, as being "ill-conceived" and "slipshod." Jimmie's obsession with gold, made him somewhat careless about the dangers involved. His wife Marie, also obsessed with gold, was worried about her husband's well being, and thought that nothing would happen to Jimmie, if she participated in this attempt. In contrast to Jimmie's devil-may-care attitude, Marie was the planner, the dogmatic, the keen-eyed woman, who would make sure that all contingencies would be considered, that nothing would be left to chance. That was fine with Jimmie, who eschewed planning and logistics, finding them boring; he was a man of action, not a planner. He had however, great respect for his wife's ideas, opinions, and her patience, and could sometimes put up a facade of grumbling, of protest to his wife's doings, but it was all for show, since those nearby could see him contentedly wink in silent approval, of her actions.
Jimmie, Marie, Gustavo Heny and Miguel Delgado, had set up camp at Guayaraca, at the South side of the base of the Auyantepui. Jimmie was convinced that this was the mountain where he had seen the river of gold many years ago. It would be from this camp, where he would take off and expected to land again after finding the elusive river that so much occupied his mind. Many times, Jimmie had already flown over the Auyantepui, looking for a suitable landing site. Heny meanwhile, had told Jimmie that the search they had performed on the pool that formed at the foot of the Auyantepui's falls, was not the place Jimmie was looking for, and their search had turned up only a few small gold nuggets. Gustavo was just coming back from an exploration of the Auyantepui that took him 15 days to complete, when he found that Jimmie, returning from a flight to Ciudad Bolivar, his airplane loaded with equipment and supplies, had flown to the mesa, and had done a "touch and go" on the surface, and deemed this experience, sufficient to assure himself that he could land without a problem.
What he failed to see was that the apparent firm surface, was not so; there had been already some indications to this because when Gustavo Heny had visited the mesa in two previous occasions, on foot, he discovered that although he had not made it to the precise location that Jimmie remembered as the one for the river of gold, the general conditions were the same, and the ground was extremely soft, covered with layers of plant matter, among which shrubs grew, and when walking on this surface, they had to step carefully on these patches of plants, or otherwise they would sink to their knees in the deep mud.
Gustavo asked Jimmie for more time, so he could go and climb again on foot the Auyantepui and look for a safe and mark a suitable landing place, but the 12 days he asked Jimmie to wait, were too much for Angel; he had spent already three years on this search, his money was running out, and probably haste had something to do with the decision that Angel would take, because his wife was intent on spending Christmas in the United States; besides, he told Gustavo, when it came to landing sites, he knew more about them than Gustavo . . .
Jimmie decided that the attempt would be done the next day, so they unloaded from the airplane everything deemed unnecessary, including the extra fuel, leaving enough gasoline on the tanks, to make a round trip to the mesa, each leg of the flight would not take more than fifteen minutes, according to Jimmie. Enough food for 15 days, a length of rope and a small tent completed their load.
On October 9, 1937 at 11:20 A.M. "El Rio Caroni" took off from the Guayaraca base camp and about 15:00 minutes later, reached the meseta. According to Jimmie's instructions, they had loaded the Rio Caroni with the heaviest person at the back of the airplane, this being Gustavo Heny on the last seat, then Miguel, Maria, and Jimmie. They overflew it for a few minutes, and then Jimmie aligned the airplane for a landing. Once sure of his intended landing site, and according to Heny's diary, Jimmie cut the engine off, magnetos and turned all the switches to the off position . . . they made a three-point landing, and the tires were already making ruts on the soft ground.
When the weight of the airplane transferred from the wings to the wheels, the airplane began to sink. Everyone was silent, with the exception of Heny, who from the back of the cabin yelled to Jimmie: "Jimmie . . . pull out!"
The airplane jumped and this made it nose over, getting stuck to the mud nose first . . . 11:45 AM . . . Heny's seat belt breaks . . . he falls down the cabin, landing on top of Jimmie.
Hundreds of miles away in Caracas, Lotti Johnson de Cardona, Capitan Cardona's wife, listens to a brief a radio transmission from the Rio Caroni; strangely, the airplane's radio does not reach the radio located at the base camp, just a couple of miles down the meseta. Unable to understand the meaning of the message, she worries still, because she has not heard from her husband.
Some time later, an airplane from the Linea Aeropostal Venezolana, flown by Comandante Lopez Enriquez flies to the Auyantepui area, but due to the weather in the region, the rescuers are unable to locate either the Rio Caroni or its occupants.
Experts on the region have expressed that it would be impossible to land an airplane on top of the Auyantepui, due to the lack of a suitable landing place, the characteristics of the ground, deep routs, mud, etc., casting serious doubts as to whether the first landing that Jimmie says he made, with McCracken, really took place.
After repeatedly trying to extricate the airplane from the grip of the mud, it became evident that they would not be able to free it; attempts to make contact via radio with Capitan Cardona, at their base camp at the foot of the mesa, were not successful. The "Flying Hobo" article, states that as soon as the airplane stopped, Jimmie attempted to fix whatever was wrong with the engine, but discovering that an oil line was broken, and there was no way they could repair it, then jumped into the river, and found out to his utter disappointment, that the bottom was not covered with gold, but with about a foot of silt. Despite the cold water, he spent a very long time, accompanied by his wife, searching for the elusive gold.
It would not be until three days later, when after repeated pleadings from Heny, that Jimmie finally allowed himself to be convinced that they should better start heading out of that place, while they still were in good health and capable of moving, and began the long walk back to their base camp; they were led by Gustavo Heny, who was an expert woodsman. And is precisely at this point, where Marie's planning, her foresight, helped save the group. She had made sure that they had in the airplane, what they would need to survive in case of need. She had even included Jimmie's favorite cigarettes, the "Lucky Strike" brand.
The Rio Caroni was left there, where it remained until many years later, it was rescued by the Fuerza Aerea Venezolana. Capitan Cardona had spent five days attempting to contact the party through the radio, and when he had not managed to do so, broadcasted emergency radio signals requesting help.
News carried fast, and newspapers picked up the story, and it became a hot topic of conversation, and soon enough, it became evident to all: if the so much touted mesa existed . . . Then the story about the "mile high" waterfall could also be true . . .
Fourteen days later, muddy, exhausted, with their bodies full of scratches and bruises, their shoes destroyed and their feet bloody and swollen, and with their bodies showing the bites of "garrapatas" (ticks), but otherwise very much alive and in general good health, the survivors made it back to base camp, surprising Cardona, who thought they were all dead.
They had been to the top of the Auyantepui. They also, had failed to find any gold in the river up the mesa. Subsequent expeditions in years to come, by other explorers, claimed that they failed to find any significant amounts of the yellow metal there, while other reports say that gold and diamonds were in fact, found in areas that Jimmie had claimed for himself for prospecting work. The trip in the end did not produce Jimmie's desired results, but a magazine of the times had to embellish it somehow, probably helped by Jimmie's penchant for the dramatic. It described an emergency apendectomy performed by Jimmie, on Gustavo Heny; a life-or-death situation, a drama happening high on the mesa, under torrential rains, while Miguel Delgado held high a lantern, and Jimmie operated on Gustavo. Years later, Gustavo denied that this story was true, and clearly stated that all he had was a case of "bad side pains."
* The Airplane
Built by the All Metal Aircraft Corporation, the Flamingo was a model G-2-W (c/n 11) and registered NC-94873; sold 08/03/36 to James Crawford Angel and partners; later it was registered by a Joel Eli Meachan, of Phoenix Arizona on 01/06/37.
As we have mentioned earlier, the Flamingo was an eight place airplane, powered by a Pratt & Whitney Wasp engine of 450hp. This particular Flamingo, was named "El Rio Caroni." At least 21 examples of this model were built, but the Rio Caroni is the sole survivor. The All Metal Aircraft Company ceased to exist many years ago.
As we have already stated, after their eventful landing, the Rio Caroni was abandoned on top of the Auyantepui, to remain there until the early months of 1970. Jimmie's youngest son, Roland, went to Angel Falls in 1965 accompanied by the writer Carl Mydans and found the Flamingo airplane, the "El Rio Caroni" still on the same location where his parents had abandoned 28 years before; many years of exposure to harsh tropical sun and rain bleached airplane, although the structure in general was reported to be in good condition it so many years back.
In 1970, as part of the activities related to their 50th anniversary, the Fuerza Aerea Venezolana (FAV) mounted an operation to rescue the airplane. The FAV personnel under the Command of Coronel Edgar Suarez Mier y Teran and of Gustavo Fernandez, acting as the chief of the base for the "Operacion Auyantepui" disassembled it, and using a Bell UH-1H helicopter to transport the airplane, first to Canaima, on 6 February, 1970 and later on a Fairchild C-123 was used to transport the airplane from Canaima to Caracas, where it was restored.
As a testament to the rugged construction of the airplane, when it was taken apart for transportation to Canaima, structurally the airframe was in very good shape; the battery still had a charge! Controversy has allso followed the Rio Caroni; there was a dispute of ownership between the Venezuelan Air Force, who at first had assumed ownership of the airplane and the residents of Ciudad Bolivar until 1971, when the FAV informed the newspaper El Universal that they would return the airplane to Ciudad Bolivar. After its restoration, it was first displayed on a park in Canaima (Parque Ruiz Pineda), not far from the Ciudad Bolivar airport's terminal. Then, it was moved to the Museo Aeronautico de Maracay, until 1980 when it was moved back to Ciudad Bolivar.
It was displayed on a traffic circle in front of the airport, where it was hit by a car. Vandalism has taken its toll, and there are many parts missing from the airplane. There have been many plans formulated to build a metallic structure over this historic airplane, to preserve it from the harsh elements prevalent in this region of South America, but nothing has been done.
There is also a movement in Venezuela, to have the Rio Caroni returned to the top of the Auyantepui, where they say, it belongs. The Venezuelan Government has declared the Rio Caroni a National Monument.
* The Scientific Windfall
Besides the significance of having discovered the world's tallest waterfall, first estimated by Jimmie to be five thousand feet, based on the airplane's altimeter readings, this discovery also awoke the interest of scientists, since here you had an area which had been isolated from "civilization" for thousands of years, and given the isolation of the high mesa, allowed plants and other life forms, to develop on a different pattern than those same species, found a few thousand feet below.
Thus, in 1938 the New York American Museum of Natural History sponsored a scientific expedition to the top of the Auyantepui, and returned with many plant and animal species that could not be found anywhere else in the world. In 1949, an expedition sponsored by the National Geographic Society, the first ever to reach the falls on foot, measured its height at 3,212 feet (979 mts.)
* The Lost Cities
Before Angel and his party could attempt to land on top of the Auyantepui, Jimmie conducted a series of reconnaissance flights over the area, totalling 24 ½ hours of flight time, complemented by Felix Cardona and Gustavo Heny's land recon. If McCracken's story is discarded because of inverosimilitudes in its delivery, then this made Cardona and Heny, the first modern day explorers, to climb the Auyantepui.
Gustavo Heny explained years later, that on October 04, 1937 (10-4-37) "we flew South" looking for the lost city, that Jimmie had seen earlier, either in 1933 or in 1935. This lost city was located South of the Auyantepui, in an area limited by the Rio Caroni and west, to the Paragua. Where the Caroni joins the Icabaru river, there is a falls on the Caroni. Some distance to the southwest of the confluence of the rivers, Jimmie had seen from the air, the ruins of a town, which given the dense vegetation of the surrounding area, remained lost to explorers.
Anyway, bad weather hampered their search for this town, so Jimmie and Gustavo returned to their base camp after only two hours in the air. Gustavo, however, believed in the existence of this town.
Lost cities seemed to occupy Jimmie's fancy, since he also talked at length about two other such places, one located in Brazil and the other, in Ecuador. The Ecuadorean city was eventually discovered, and archeologists excavated the buildings.
Researcher Paul R. Eversole, would meet and interview Virginia Angel, in 1974. After becoming friends, and during one of their interviews, she mentioned to Eversole, the lost city in Brazil. Eversole made many trips to South America, and in particular to the Angel Falls region; and spent many years researching the life of Jimmie Angel.
Remembering what Jimmie had told her, she said she recalled that the lost city had been mentioned twice, once while in Miami, Florida and the other time, in Hawthorne, California. Virginia stated that only Jimmie, Marie (Jimmie's first wife) and herself were present. She said she remembered Jimmie describing to them how the buildings looked like, including that some of the buildings had two levels. Jimmie mentioned variations of the same story to many people over the years, but the only constant in his deliveries, was the lack of an exact location for the lost city. Jimmie never went looking again for those cities; although they striked his fancy, they came a distant second to his primary interest, gold, as we know. And for some very personal reason, he did not think that he was going to find gold in the ruined cities. This reason alone, seems enough to explain why neither Jimmie nor any of his closest friends, ever went looking for the lost cities. There was, however, a map . . .
Virginia had mentioned to Eversole, during one of their interviews, that there was a map of the city in Brazil. They both searched through all possible places in Virginia's house, but failed to find the map. Three years later, during the month of September of 1977, Eversole says that he received from Virginia, a mail package, containing the map: in it, circled in pencil,
the location of the city. Interesting fact was, the city was located in a region of Brazil where no other towns or inhabited places have been found, although researchers say that civilizations have existed in the area in the past. Eversole stated, quoting Virginia Angel that "no matter how wild or exagerated, there was always a thread of truth in Jimmie's stories."
A woman by the name of Ruth Robertson, states that in one of Jimmie's flights over the Gran Sabana, before the Venezuelan Government forbade him to fly, he was accompanied by his wife Marie, and in the midst of a storm, he saw, or thought he saw, the lost city of El Dorado, on an island in the middle of a lake. Ruth believes that Jimmie was confused in his memories, because there is a similar city in a lake in Nicaragua, city that can be seen under the right circumstances, and Jimmie had also flown in Nicaragua . . .
* Before and after the falls
The accident on top of the Auyantepui did not impede Jimmie to continue working in Venezuela, until 1942. After losing the Rio Caroni, he purchased a Hamilton. Later on, a Cessna is bought in partnership with Marie, his wife. Using the Hamilton, Jimmie continues to provide his services to North American oil and mining companies prospecting in the Venezuelan interior. He also provides his services to the Venezuelan Government, where he had friends as well as enemies.
His qualities as a pilot cannot be denied: brave, adventurous, willing to go to places where other pilots won't. In 1939 Jimmie and his airplane are under contract with the Government of Venezuela, to survey and map the Gran Sabana and to establish reference points in the borders of Venezuela with Brazil and with the British Guyana. He has friends all over, in Ciudad Bolivar, in Venezuela, in Panama and Trinidad. His good heart is an asset: Conchita de Gomez Machado, a lady from Ciudad Bolivar consigned to her diary the story that follows:
"On his way to the Gran Sabana, pilot-prospector Jimmie, stops frequently in Ciudad Bolivar, flying the All-Metal Flamingo registered NC-9487, a single engine airplane 'built to his specifications.' When it is known that he has landed, the children who sell candy and trinkets, headed for the place known at that time as the aviation field, which was nothing more than an open and flat area - still the exclusive domain of hawks, chasing mice and lizzards - to see this airplane and its pilot, busy on the tasks of making it ready to fly. Between this and that, also to try to see what they can sell to the pilot. "
Dona Conchita wrote that Jimmie had a "child's soul" and ended up buying all the merchandise from the children, then proceeded to give it back to them as a gift, so they could sell it all over again.
On another ocassion, he asked Dona Conchita, to serve at her boarding house, a snack for thirty of his "little friends." Nicomedes Farfan, a character well known in the Ciudad Bolivar airport, describes Jimmie as "a North American adventurer who cheated the indians with candles and liquor, to take from them gold and other things of value . . ."
Marcos Sanoja, from Ciudad Bolivar during an interview by Livia Chirinos, a reporter, remembered Jimmie's participation on Venezuela's first Search and Rescue (SAR) mission, on the Alto Cuyuni region after the disappearance of a Fairchild airplane operated by the Linea Aeropostal Venezolana; the pilot of the crashed Fairchild was Capitan Jorge Marcano, the Co-pilot was Jose Antonio Mendoza and their radio-telegraph operator was Jose Antonio Fuenmayor , while the passengers were Armstrong Perry and Frederick Grab, Alonzo Duque, Serveleon Salazar LIna Valles and the misionary Friar Baltazar Matallana. They managed to survive the accident, suffering more from the jungle than from their airplane crash.
The Venezuelan Government had purchased a Fokker Model VIII (YV-AFO) in Curazao in 1936, to reinforce and to support missions on the South of Venezuela. In April 1939, this airplane flew to the Gran Sabana, with the purpose of rescuing Capitan Cardona Puig who was being accosted by the Pemones indians in the area of Kamarata. In Maracay, Mayor Alcides Quintero orders the crew of YV-AFO, composed by Maldonado, Plata, Fuenmayor and Antonio Dugarte, to go looking for Cardona Puig. When landing at Kamarata with a tail wind, Maldonado was unable to make the airplane stop in the length of the landing field, because the brakes were ineffective, and running out of runway, fell into a ditch. The forward cargo compartment was full of gasoline cans; the left engine caught fire; they were able to put the fire out but were in effect, stranded.
Before nightfall, Jimmie Angel showed up, after hearing their radio calls for help. A group of the survivors began their return on foot, while the rest waited for the rescue mission being organized by Jimmie Angel. The remains of the Fokker YV-AFO, were rescued during the first semester of 2001, in a joint operation by the Venezuelan Air Force, under sponsorship of the Dutch Aviation Museum and several private businesses in the Netherlands. The remains were inventoried, crated and transported by sea to Rotterdam, where a ten year long project is already underway, to rebuild this airplane, the only Fokker VIII surviving.
Jimmie flew another Flamingo for its owner, a Mr. Kundhard who worked for the Consolidada de Petroleo, a subsidiary of Sinclair Oil. Both Kundhard and Jimmie, flew many times, searching for gold . . . Controversy was never too far from Jimmie's life; he continued his search for the mountain of gold, but in 1942, he became lost in the jungles of the Guyana region of Venezuela. As in previous ocassions, he eventually found his way back to civilization, but this time, the Venezuelan government had sent airplanes looking for him, and some of those airplanes were lost. The government blamed Jimmie for this, and found him liable for their cost and the consecuent crimnal penalties; he was declared "persona non-grata" and was oficially expelled from Venezuela; this never stopped him from coming back. Comandante Guillermo Pacanins, who was at that time the Chief of the Aviation in Venezuela, obtained consensus from the authorities, to prohibit Jimmie to stay or fly in Venezuela: "He always carried a beer on top of the instrument panel, and I believe that we should attribute to him, the invention of the artificial horizon . . ." Gibson.
Those who knew him tell us that Jimmie was a bad navigator and was not trained to fly on instruments; official records seem to support this belief.
The Aviation authorities in the United States also were pursuing cases against Jimmie; there was also a Mr. Anderson, a Seattle based attorney who kept requesting from the U.S. State Department information regarding Angel's whereabouts, or how to locate him; there were creditors and other people looking for Jimmie.
Jimmie and his wife Marie, continued leading a very interesting life, with most of what they did, tied to flying over diverse parts of Latin America. Sometimes accompanied by Marie, Jimmie flew photo surveys, supply flights, transported equipment and engineers, surveyors and explorers, to different regions.
During the 1940s, and using Nicaraguan Pilot's license No. 122, Jimmie operated an airline, "SIDA" (Servicios Interamericanos de Aviacion) in Nicaragua. Jimmie sold his interest in this airline, in May or June of 1945, to Jack Baker and Neal Hampten. This airline had the backing of the U.S. government, since during the World War II years, the U.S. was interested in promoting the production of natural rubber, a strategic material that was in high demand for the war effort, and so,
Angel also produced several films documenting the production of rubber (balata, hevea) in Nicaragua. Angel purchased a Hamilton Airplane, (c/n 62), NC-854E. The transaction was registered to James Crawford Angel of Coral Gables, Florida and Caracas, Venezuela. This airplane suffered an accident in Honduras, on 20 September 1943. It was then transferred to TACA in Tegucigalpa. The remains of the aircraft were sold then to Servicio Interamericano de Aviacion (SIDA) in Managua, Nicaragua, to be used as spares source for their Hamilton which in turn, had also been acquired from TACA.
From October of 1945 through January of 1946 Jimmy Angel had a working contract with United States based Compañía Hulera (Rubber Company). Then he gained an interest in the Tropical Air Transport company, which began operating on 1 February, 1946. Angel and Baker flew there the Vultee V1-AD, AN-ABI; The V1-A "Special" (s/n 25) was built in 1936, and was powered by a Wright R-1820-66 engine; this particular airplane was originally registered in the United States as NC-16099, and was later on registered in Panama, before the beginning of World War II, as RX-19; then Angel and Baker flew it in Nicaragua, as we have seen above. The airplane went back to Panama, and was registered as RX-158, and when the Panamanian registration system changed, it was re-registered as HP-158. It was saved from oblivion, and returned to Pueblo, Colorado USA, and then as NC-16099 now survives in the Virginia Aviation Museum located in Richmond, Virginia; it has been painted to represent the "Lady Peace," a Vultee Special flown round trip across the Atlantic Ocean in 1936, by Dick Merrill and Harry Richman. It is the only example of the V1-AD surviving anywhere in the world.
Angel also flew a Lockheed Vega (c/n 66) AN-ABL, from 1944 until it crashed at Boaco, Nicaragua, on 19 February 1945. My good friend, Dr. Buitrago said, during an interview conducted in McAllen, Texas on 23 August, 2000:
"Long after Jimmie Angel discovered the now called Angel Falls, in Venezuela, I met him. I was about six years old, so it must have been around 1943. He came to pick up my dad and me, to our house in Managua, very early in the morning. He was driving a small truck, so I rode in the truck's bed, while my dad rode in front with him."
"We went to Managua's Xolotlan airport, which was back then a grass covered landing strip, and flew to Esteli, where my dad had been a physician, and we went there for a day visit. We flew on a Ford Tri-motor, and Jimmie Angel was our pilot."
"As I remember him, he was short of stature and skinny, his hair was almost white, and I remember that on the back of his neck, his skin was very wrinkled. I remember that the airplane had passenger-like seating, but with one seat only on each side of the aisle; there was no door between the passenger area and the cockpit, so I could see Jimmie Angel, flying the airplane. I also remember peering out and down one of the windows, and seeing the main landing gear wheel, spinning in the airstream, while we were already airborne . . ." Buitrago.
While in Nicaragua, Angel and his wife had a son, and they named him Jimmy. Twin sons were born in Costa Rica, in 1948, but only one, Rolan, survived. Some time during his flying life, Jimmie suffered one of so many aviation accidents, but this one was different, since fire broke out in the cockpit upon crashing, and althouhg he managed to walk alive from the wreck, his face would be forever marked with the scars from that fire.
With the family growing, the children needing a stable place to live, dictated that Jimmie and his family returned to the United States, during 1954. They settled in Santa Barbara, California, and lived there for two years. Ralph Lopez, a Spaniard from Bilbao, who worked throughout Central and South America as an inspector for OACI/ICAO, and was chief of Maintenance for AVIANCA in the 1950s, wrote about Jimmie Angel:
"Now comes to mind my old buddy Jimmie Angel; that s.o.b. nailed me for a couple of grand in a venture seeking gold in C.R. (Costa Rica) and the goddammed equipment sunk in some river or another. The bastard also nailed me along with a bunch of other guys from LAV-Venezuela, in a Kaolin mine in Venezuela (terribly expensive stuff to make high class plates and cups). Could do nothing about the whole deal as the &^%#@ killed himself in a Push-Pull Cessna 337 in Panama . . . I guess we were all crazy bastards in those days and would spend almost complete nights boozin' in a cat house talking and arguing about airplanes . . . "
Apparently having settled in life, the lure of gold came calling again, and in 1956, when he was almost 60 years of age, Jimmie headed South, to look for the gold-ladden stream. While in Panama, and when taxiing the Cessna 180 that he was flying, he was caught by a freak occurrence of a cross-wind, which managed to overturn the small airplane.
As a result, Jimmie suffered a cerebral hemorrhage; he was transported to the Gorgas Hospital, in Ancon, the U.S. Canal Zone, in Panama, where he lay in a coma for five months, where as a consequence of the seriousness of his injuries, he died on 8 December, 1956. His death certificate lists his occupation as Explorer. In following his will, his body was cremated (December 11, 1956) at the Gorgas Crematory, and his ashes were to be strewn over the Gran Sabana.
As some rumors would have it, when the urn containing his ashes arrived in Venezuela, a customs official unaware of the contents of the urn, misplaced it. Once it was discovered that the ashes were missing, a great deal of activity took place to remedy this unexpected problem. Other ashes, not from human remains, filled the urn again. Then, according to the plans, on 3 July 1960, Jimmie's widow emptied the contents of the urn, while flying on an airplane belonging to the Creole company. The pilot was Captain Marvin G. Grigsby, a friend of the family.
As we have seen, Jimmie's life was full of
adventure, risk and thrills. It was also plagued by bad bussiness deals,
made up adventures, prosecution by governments and individuals, but we
have also seen that there was a humane, kind side to this adventurer.
While he might have not been the first person to actually "discover" the falls that now bear his name, he was instrumental in communicating their existence to the world. His name is forever linked to this region of Venezuela, and although not many people can explain while the falls are named so, his memory will remain in the history of the region, the aviation lore of Venezuela, and in the magnificent water falls that he "accidentally discovered, while searching for gold."
His life, that seemed to move between the heroic to the credible to the unbelievable, was also immortalized in "Icaro," a novel written by Alberto Vasquez Figueroa.
* Sources and Credits This article began as an afterthought; I was discussing my favorite theme, aviation history, with a good friend, Dr. Roberto Buitrago, one night in the Lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas. Dr. Buitrago is a man of vast knowledge, wisdom and blessed with a great sense of humor. He can discuss Mozart and then jump and talk with you about the economy and then without missing a beat, will play a practical joke on you.
When he mentioned that he had met a famous aviatior named Jimmy Angel, my attention was immediately drawn to his statement, since as a coincidence, I had been collecting some material to write some day, about the person I thought had discovered the world's tallest water fall. Little by little I began to collect more material, so I will thank Dr. Buitrago first, not only for providing me with his first person experiences regarding Jimmie Angel, but also for having been such a good friend. Gracias, Roberto! Vos sos la pura vida!!!!
Then, as is usually the case, I sent an e-mail to my mentor, friend and example to follow, Dr. Gary Kuhn. I had already copied some material from his personal aviation archives, and I had enough to write an article for LAAHS. Dr. Kuhn came through, as always, with not only additional information, but also with a good picture of the restored Rio Caroni.
And then, to clinch the support, he provided me with the information and means to contact, Mr. Alfredo Schael, from Venezuela. Mr. Schael is a newspaper columnist. He has been working for a long time, on a book on Jimmie Angel. He has accumulated many pages of data, evidentiary support of so many things related to the life of Jimmie. The best part is, that I only had to write an e-mail to him, and shortly thereafter, Mr. Schael had generously provided me with close to 90 pages of his documents. This kind of generosity is typical of those great men, like him and Gary Kuhn, who are interested in furthering the knowledge of Latin American Aviation. To you, Mr. Schael, and to you Gary, my most sincere thanks.
Through the good offices of Gary Kuhn, I was able to obtain a good deal of information from Russ Plehinger. Russ is the moving force behind "AeroStatz," an aviation research service, specializing in air racing, and air records for the period of 1920 - 1939. He presents in great detail, information regarding long distance and endurance flights, which were a very important part of aviation during the 1920s and 1930s. Characteristically unselfish, he shared his wealth of data with me. Russ, I owe you one.
As in any research work, there are many sources consulted and many bits of data that the writer chooses to include or not on his work. After considering different approaches, I chose to use the one you have just finished reading, in order to try to present to our readers, a more human look at the life of a man that albeit controversial, was nonetheless one of the great pilots, explorers and human beings, warts and all, that have graced the skies of Latin America.
* Documentary Sources - News Services Articles: Angel Takes Off on 25,000 Mile Hop: Associated Press, April 17, 1928 Pilot to Continue 25,000 Mile Flight: Associated Press, April 23, 1928 Aviator, Cape Horn Bound, is in Guaymas: April 25, 1928 "A Pioneer of one of the few air routes yet unexplored: Jimmie Angel and two companions from San Diego, Cal., on the first lap of their flight down through Central and Southern America to Cape Horn." Photo Caption from Times Wide World Photos, dated April 29, 1928 "Girl Stowaway in Plane Ends Endurance Flight." New York Sun, Monday, December 15, 1930 "Ancient: Jimmie Angel looks over some old relics he gathered on a 3,000-mile aerial exploration trip in the remote sections of Mexico. He is shown at Los Angeles airport with his stuff, which includes armor which some Conquistador may have worn." Photo caption from International Newsreel Photo, as appeared in the Washington Herald, Saturday, December 5, 1931. "U.S. Plane Feared Down on Ocean." Newark Ledger, Saturday, January 30, 1932. "U.S. Mercy Flier Lost in Venezuela" "Angel was taking a woman to Hospital from Remote Region." Special Cable to The New York Times February 6, 1942. "Jimmy Angel Reported Safe on Venezuela Flight." "Missing pilot and party of six Land at Ciudad Bolivar." UP wire service, February 7, 1942 . "Jungle Flyer." The Sun February 7, 1942
Dr. Roberto Buitrago's recollections of Jimmy Angel. McAllen, Texas, 2000
The Bush Pilots. The Epic of Flight Series. Time Life Books ISBN 0-8094-3309-5
The Flying Hobo and the Eight Wonder of the World. Cavalier Magazine article, by George Scullin published August 6, 195?
From newspaper articles, by Bert Williams: Jimmy Angel Loved Teo Kop's Big Airplane. They Don't make adventurers like they did. The Tico Times San Jose, Costa Rica 19 December, 1986
"Angel on Silver Wings" By John R. Holl The Americas Magazine August, 1980
"Angel's Secret" By Paul R. Eversole Nr. 11, South American Explorer August, 1984
Jimmy Angel Insight Guides: Venezuela 2nd Edition, 1996
Letter dated St. Pat's Day, 2001 from Mr. John Underwood to Dr. Gary Kuhn.
Letter from Ralph Lopez, a Spaniard to Dr. Gary Kuhn dated April 25 (no year).
1946 Memoria de (la Secretaria de) Guerra, Marina y Aviacion. Nicaragua.
Quauhtli, an Aviation Magazine published in Mexico. Issue #3, 2001 Article written by Manuel Ruiz Romero.