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Find out more about the ascent of these two amazing mountains

* 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.

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