|* 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
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
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
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
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
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
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 criscrossed 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 decission
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"
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
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."
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The Lost World -- Venezuela's Gran Sabana and Canaima National Park