The discovery of Angel Falls in Venezuela was a made-for-Hollywood adventure.
Jimmie Angel was an adventurer with a passion for flying. Following World War I, he worked as a barnstormer, test pilot, stunt pilot and flight instructor before heading to Central and South America in the 1920s.
Over time, Angel’s legendary exploits made it difficult to separate myth from reality. Unconfirmed stories included being a self-taught pilot at 14, creating an air force for a Chinese warlord and working as an aviation scout for Lawrence of Arabia.
One night in Panama, an American geologist, known only as McCracken, paid Angel $5,000 to fly him to a river of gold flowing through an unknown tepui (plateau) in southeastern Venezuela. Using only hand signals, the mysterious stranger directed Angel to the river where they removed as much gold as possible.
Angel spent the remainder of his life searching for the lost river of gold. Though unverified, Angel frequently told the story and his obsessive search may have been an indication of its validity.
Years later, while flying solo through the canyons of Venezuela’s Gran Sabana, Angel claimed he had sighted a “mile-high waterfall.” Understandably, there was considerable doubt about its authenticity.
Finally in 1935, Angel convinced three others flew an expedition into the canyon to verify his claim with pictures. And verify they did, photographing the world’s highest waterfall at 3,212 feet.
Hoping to explore Auyán-tepui – the site’s “Devil Mountain” – in 1937, Angel’s El Rio Caroni hit soft ground and nose-dived into a layer of mud, breaking a fuel line.
Anticipating problems, Angel had previously parachuted supplies into the area. Despite that, the return to civilization was an arduous 11-day trek for the four-person expedition.
Angel died in 1956 from complications due to a head injury when loose cargo struck him during a landing.
In 1964, the Venezuelan government dismantled and airlifted the plane for partial restoration and reassembling by the Aviation Museum in Maracay.
Today, El Rio Camino sits proudly in front of the air terminal in Ciudad Bolivar, the gateway to Devil Mountain and the magnificent waterfall discovered by an Angel.
Bob Taylor of Charlotte leads group tours and organized the Magellan Club.
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