Jimmy Angel, a bush pilot searching for gold and diamonds,
officially discovered Angel Falls. During his trip Jimmy Angel suddenly came
upon the falls in 1935.
The aviator Jimmy Angel was born in Springfield, MO. Angel
became famous throughout Latin America as a barnstormer, almost a legendary
figure who made claims of great wealth, and secret information of hidden gold
and diamond mines. He spent his early childhood in Springfield, then moved to
As a teenager Angel became an airplane mechanic. One day he
took his first flight quite by accident. He recalled that he had been working
in the cockpit of a plane when the craft suddenly began to roll down a
On the spur of the moment, young Angel felt the urge to fly. Seated at the controls, he simply
started the motor and took off.
Although he had never flown, he managed to successfully maneuver and land the craft: The
experience gave him confidence and he gradually learned all the skills of flying from pilots at the airfield. But
he never, received formal flying instruction.
A combat pilot with the Royal Canadian Flying corps in World War I, Angel became a stunt flier
with aerial circuses in the 1920's. Physically a rugged individual, Angel in the truest sense was an adventurer. He
was a man of unusual stamina and offered to undertake any aerial assignment. He developed an interest in Latin
America and moved to Panama. From this base he flew for private individuals and government missions in many types
A Search for
In 1934, Jimmy Angel, met Robert Williamson in Panama.
Williamson was an aging miner who long had followed trails to lost gold mines
in Central and South America.
His success had been meager but now he told Angel, he had
learned of a fabulous gold lode in the Gran Sabana in Southeastern
Only a small part of this region of thick rainforests and
treacherous, rivers had been explored.
In the early 1800s, this area, south of the Orinoco, had
been given the name, "The Lost World" by early explorers and the designation
sticks to this day.
The territory has something of a primary environment. Even
from the air you get the impression of a terrific remoteness from civilization,
even though cities lie just 150 miles away.
Angel agreed to co-operate with Williamson in a search, for the isolated goldmine. From Ciudad
Bolivar in Eastern Venezuela, he began a series of exploratory flights southward in his metal, single engine
aircraft. On one of these flights he abruptly came upon the amazing Auyantepui that rises thousands of feet above
A circular tabletop mountain, it is practically unscalable. Angel began to fly around the giant
mesa when he found the falls. Because his fuel supply was low and because clouds made flying hazardous, he was
forced to return promptly to his base. But the discovery of: the cataract left him dazzled. He returned to Caracas
to tell of his find.
"But no one would believe me," he wrote. "They thought it impossible that there could ' be a
fall one kilometer in, length.
Angel's colorful descriptions about a landscape, almost of another world, attracted attention.
But when he talked of pure stone mountains rising: vertically from the plain and described strange flora and fauna,
his listeners became incredulous.
A Jungle Trek
Nevertheless Angel returned to fly over the falls again, and he continued to tell his eager
tales of the discovery. Eventually, he gained the attention of Venezuelan and American scientists. Then in 1937
with, his wife he embarked on yet another flight to the falls. Angel decided to risk a landing on Auyantepui near
the falls. The plane touched earth in a swampy area and became mired. Attempts to level the craft, and to fly off
the mountain failed. Angel had to walk out of the jungle, a hard task, but one he and his wife managed in 12 days.
Today, his plane remains in the spot where it crash-landed.
Although Angel had discovered the world's highest falls, he remained disappointed at not
locating gold or diamonds in this area, now a part of Bolivar state. Throughout his life he continued to believe
that the striking face of the mountain Auyantepui held great riches. Angel was 57 when he died in December 1956, in
Balboa. He had suffered fatal injuries in a plane crash near David, Panama.
A flier to his last days, Angel never gave up his adventurous lifestyle. In his last years he
reported, that he had discovered a rich uranium lode in Suriname. But he never revealed the precise location.
The falls that bear this Missourian's name have only been rarely visited on foot. An expedition
in 1949 traversed the humid, intense jungle area and gave the falls its first accurate measurement. But the great
cataract, steaming majestically from stone cliff to green valley, remains still quite isolated and remote.
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