A is for Jimmie Angel

As usual, I am again focusing on the famous, the forgotten and the misbegotten for round 19 of the popular ABC Wednesday meme. But finding suitable characters is getting harder, so apologies in advance if I miss out some of the alphabet.

Jimmie AngelJimmie Angel was an aviator, adventurer and stuff of legend, most of which he perpetuated himself. What is certainly true though is that Angel Falls in Venezuela, the highest in the world, is named after him.

Angel was born in Cedar Valley, Missouri, in 1899, but would spend most of his 57 years outside of America. He claimed to be mostly American Indian which at least had some basis in truth as his mother was part North Carolina Cherokee.

According to the many stories that surround him, Angel claimed that he learned to fly at the age of fourteen, was a flying ace during World War One, was then an airborne scout for Lawrence of Arabia and that he created an air force for a Chinese warlord in the Gobi Desert.

Angel in ChinaThe truth is impossible to verify as many of the records have been lost, although he did serve during the war and afterwards became a contract pilot for the rest of his life. But even though the airline industry was still in its infancy, Angel avoided the life of a commercial pilot saying: ‘It would be like driving a bus’. Instead, he became a flying explorer.

According to Angel, he first ventured to Venezuela in 1921 where he teamed up with an American mining geologist who paid him $5,000 to fly him to the south east of the country. They landed on a mysterious table mountain where they discovered great quantities of gold in a river.

Again this is a story that cannot be verified, but what is true is that he spent the 1930s exploring the Gran Sabana, working for the Venezuelan Ministry of Development, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Venezuelan-Brazil Boundary Commission.

Angel FallsAngel was obsessed with the Auyantepui, the 435 square mile heart shaped table mountain in the southeastern Gran Sabana region. Its name translates as Devil’s House in the language of the indigenous Pemon people and it was where Angel believed to be the place he had previously found his river of gold. On a solo flight in 1933, he saw for the first time what would become known as Angel Falls.

But no-one believed his claim to have seen a ‘mile-high waterfall’ so in 1937, with his second wife, Marie, Venezuelan explorer, Gustavo Heny, and jungle expert Miguel Delgado, he prepared to fly to and land on the Auyantepui plateau.

Jimmie and Marie Angel

Jimmie and Marie Angel

The landing in the small monoplane seemed perfect until it began to slow when its landing gear sank through the ground, flipping the plane on its nose. No-one was hurt, but the group was effectively stranded in an inhospitable jungle.

Even so, they began to search for the river of gold, but gave up after two days and began to plan how they would get off the mountain. But first, Angel insisted that they prize the plane’s nose out of the mud and taped a cloth to its wing with the words ‘ALL OKAY’ written on it and an arrow indicating the direction they were headed.

Given up for dead, it took the four of them eleven days to trek their way back to civilisation and their story captured the public’s imagination. It also made Angel Falls known to the wider world and people travel there still to marvel at it, although the journey is still as arduous as it ever was.

Angel's planeAngel’s aircraft remained atop Auyantepui until 1970, when it was disassembled and carried down by Venezuelan military helicopters and can now be seen outside the airport terminal at Ciudad Bolívar.

As for Angel himself, he continued his contract pilot career with Marie as his co-pilot and navigator until 1943 when their first child was born in Nicaragua. They returned to America in 1951, although Angel spent the next five years working in Central and South America.

His health was failing and in 1956 he suffered a head injury when landing his plane in Panama. Angel then had a heart attack and other ailments until  he died eight months later. The doctor who certified his death simply gave his occupation as ‘explorer’.

8 comments… Add yours
  • Diane 13th July 2016

    How interesting and such a daring man but I wonder how he and his fellow explorers survived in the jungle, did they have food and water ?I have heard of Angel Falls and now I know how It got it’s name!
    Thanks for sharing this with us,
    Best wishes,
    Di.
    ABCW team.

    Reply
  • Yorkshire Pudding 13th July 2016

    Fascinating. His was not a safe, predictable life. I wonder what the great waterfall was called before Angel told the world….Kerepakupai Vená, meaning “waterfall of the deepest place”.

    Reply
  • Melody Steenkamp 13th July 2016

    An explorer of life… in many ways… in which he will be remembered for many to come…I think its wonderful how you give hommages to people who deserve to.

    Have a nice abc-w-day / – week
    ♫ M e l ☺ d y ♫ (abc-w-team)
    http://melodymusic.nl/abc-wednesday-19-a/

    Reply
  • Amit Agarwal 13th July 2016

    Absorbing!

    Reply
  • Su-sieee! Mac 14th July 2016

    You find the most interesting people to share with us. As I read about Jimmie Angel, I thought about the movie “Up” and wondered if the writer may have been inspired by Jimmie Angel.

    Reply
  • Roger Green 14th July 2016

    I did not know Angel Falls was named after a person!

    ROG, ABCW

    Reply
  • Jackie 14th July 2016

    This was very informative!

    Reply
  • rhymeswithplague 16th July 2016

    I’m with Roger, I had no idea Angel Falls was named after a person!

    On a totally unrelated but slightly tangential note, one of our American reporters said on the news last night that the terrorism by truck in Nice occurred on the Angelic Promenade. Later I read that the French name is Promenade Anglais, which clearly means English Promenade, not Angelic Promenade! I find it a coincidence of cosmic proportions that I am telling this to an Englishman on a blogpost about a man whose name was Angel.

    Reply

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