|* 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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.
Page 1 | 2
The Lost World -- Venezuela's Gran Sabana and Canaima National Park