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Find out more about the ascent of these two amazing mountains

* 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.

* Auyantepui
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" 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."

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The Lost World -- Venezuela's Gran Sabana and Canaima National Park


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