Chiriqui Libre December 2012 edition.

Sorry it took so long for us to come back . . . its been quite a story.

Never mind, we have articles that will make you sit up and pay attention.

An airport with mysterious nightime comings and goings, a Spanish treasure find in 1937 that made world headlines, is that enough to get you reading. Wait, there's more. If you are planning to retire to Panama please check out our two sponsors on our masthead. These are ideal places to launch your explorer trips to Volcan and Panama - both have English speaking hosts and both places welcome visitors and their never-ending questions. Please click on the links to the RIGHT.

PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR THE Spanish Treasure story.

History & Mystery

By Osvaldo Iván Flores & David Dell

The community of Volcàn in the highlands of Chiriquí has always had a runway for small planes, if we go back to the 1940s there was already a field in the centre of the town that went across the main street. This landing field was used by the army of the southern command of the United States, during the second world war, they used many fields throughout the country, and it was also used by foreign citizens working in the former Canal zone and who had properties in the area.

With the passage of the years, and the population growth, They had to find an alternative, and move the landing strip to the outskirts of the town.

The Janson family, owners of the Hacienda Las Lagunas, had begun to use some pastures of their property for landing planes. The owner of the Hotel Bambito began to promote the construction of an airport, they were thinking about bringing charter flights with tourists and there was always the idea and the desire to take the local vegetable production to Panamà by plane.

In 1984 on land "acquired" by the Defence Forces of General Manuel Antonio Noriega, the Civic Action of the armed forces built a runway of 2,000 meters (6562 ft) long by 20 meters (66 feet) wide at an elevation of 1524 meters (5,000 feet) above sea level.

This field was of restricted use in those years, used for clandestine flights of origin and destination unknown, and according to residents of the area, night flights of large aircraft were frequent because they were easily accommodated on this long and wide runway.

After the American invasion it was returned to the Administration and ownership of Panama´s Civil Aviation. Maintenance has been very careless and deterioration is notable.

It is only used by the occasional charter flight and some people who have property in the area, and 2 or 3 times a year for racing cars and motorcycles that only accelerate its marked deterioration.

Considered amongst the 4 largest fields across the country today when the Government is looking at remodelling and - or construction of new airports in the interior of the country, we ask the relevant authorities to take a look at this facility which if not given proper maintenance and repair it will become another loss for the National Government.

By first and only, decree issued by the National Directorate of Civil Aviation, and published in the Official Gazette this airport is named after Captain Alvaro Berroa, in memoriam, neighbour of the community and pilot who died in plane crash on Isla Contadora.

La comunidad de Volcán en Tierras Altas siempre ha contado con una pista de aterrizaje, si nos remontamos a los años 1940 cuando ya existía una pista en todo el centro del pueblo y que atravesaba la calle principal.

Este campo de aterrizaje era utilizado por el ejército del Comando Sur de los Estados Unidos, durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial, como eran utilizadas muchas pistas en todo el país, y por ciudadanos extranjeros que laboraban en la antigua Zona del Canal y que tenían propiedades en el área.

Con el paso de los años, y con el crecimiento poblacional, se tenia que buscar una alternativa, y mover la pista a las afueras del pueblo, ya la familia Janson, propietaria de la Hacienda Las Lagunas, había empezado a utilizar unos potreros de su propiedad para aterrizar avionetas.

El dueño del hotel Bambito empezó a promover la construcción de un aeropuerto, ya que se pensaba en traer vuelos charter con turistas y siempre existió la idea y el deseo de sacar la producción de legumbres hacia la ciudad de Panamá en avión.

En 1984 en terrenos “adquiridos” por las Fuerzas de Defensa del General Manuel Antonio Noriega, la Acción Cívica de la Fuerzas Armadas construye una pista de aterrizaje de 2.000 metros de largo ( 6562 pies ) por 20 metros de ancho ( 66 pies) a una elevación de 1524 metros ( 5.000 pies) sobre el nivel del mar.

Esta pista que fuera de uso restringido en aquellos años, fue utilizada para vuelos clandestinos de procedencia y destino desconocido, y según los vecinos del área, los vuelos nocturnos de aeronaves de gran tamaño eran frecuentes ya que por sus dimensiones estas podían aterrizar en esta pista.

Luego de la invasión estadounidense y al pasar a la administración y propiedad de Aeronáutica Civil ha sido muy descuidada y el deterioro es notable.

Solo es usada por el ocasional vuelo charter y por algunas personas que tienen propiedad en el área, y en 2 o 3 ocasiones al año para carreras de autos y motocicletas que solo aceleran su marcado deterioro.

Considerada entre las 4 pistas mas largas de todo el país, hoy cuando se contempla por parte del gobierno la remodelación y – o construcción de nuevos aeropuertos en el interior del país, damos esta clarinada de aviso a las autoridades pertinentes para que den un vistazo a esta instalación que de no darse el debido mantenimiento y reparación se convertiría en otra inversión que sería pérdida para el gobierno nacional.

Por decreto primero y único, emitido por la Dirección Nacional de Aeronáutica Civil, y publicado en la Gaceta Oficial este aeropuerto lleva el nombre del Capitán Álvaro Berroa, in memoriam, vecino de la comunidad y piloto que falleciera en accidente aéreo en Isla Contadora.

The Incredible Spanish Treasure Story
By Osvaldo Ivan Flores & David Dell

Photo taken in July 1937. The man in the white shirt with glasses is Gaston Van Steck. This photo was taken shortly before he committed suicide.

In July 1937 the world was on the brink of a second great war. Doom and gloom filled the headlines as people were desperate to hear something – anything- positive. Panama came to the rescue with just a story. It lifted the hopes and hearts of a troubled world. Headlines around the world stated: “Prospectors stumble on million dollar gold find.” “Conquistador gold ingots found in remote mountains of Panama.” It was a glittering story- but as the saying goes, “all that glitters . . .”

One day a dapper young man walked into the post office in Volcan. Neatly attired with white shirt, trousers and shoes, Gaston Van Steck appeared as anything but a grizzled old prospector. He topped off his well-groomed appearance with neatly trimmed hair and a pair of rimless glasses. Swiss born Volcan resident, Werner Senn, recalls as a young postmaster’s son meeting Belgian or French adventurer Van Steck in the rainy months of 1937. His father, Hans Senn, thought, the well-dressed young man carrying only a backpack was shifty and he didn’t trust him. Hans Senn’s character assessment was correct. Van Steck was a con artist. Before the end of July 1937-Time Magazine and newspapers from New York to London had front page articles about an incredible multimillion dollar gold mine in the mountains of Panama.

The president of Panama, Dr. Juan Demosthenes Arosemena was reportedly gleeful at hearing reports that three old prospectors had stumbled on a fortune in Conquistador gold. In today’s money worth something over $20 million dollars. The president immediately sent dozens of troops and at least six aircraft to the site to safeguard the treasure

This spectacular treasure find caught everyone’s imagination– from the president of Panama to reporters in the world’s newspapers. It would have been a wonderful story if it was true – but sadly this was all an elaborate fraud. There were no gold bars with the Spanish royal insignia. There was no discovery of the fabled “Estrella” mine. This was highly embarrassing for the government so there was the immediate firing of the governor of Chiriqui, Oscar Teran, and Police Chief Captain Sagel. Warren Thorpe, one of the three original prospectors was out-of-pocket by $6,000 and the mysterious Gaston Van Steck? He had hidden a small calibre pistol in his clothing and less than a half hour after being escorted back into his treasure cave - he shot himself in the head. Mortally wounded he was pulled from the cave but died minutes later. The location was 500 feet from the Rio Candela river. Nearby was an old Indian petroglyph, possibly a marker for the cave. The rock was dragged over and placed on top of Van Steck’s shallow grave.

Many adventurers have gone in search of the fabled “Estrella” mine. Local legend says the Indians who had been forced to work in the mine rebelled and covered the entrance. When the Spaniards returned all traces of the mine were gone.

In 1900 some Indians went to the city of David to sell some gold bars. The bars were reportedly about 2 inches wide and 2 feet long. When questioned by the authorities about where they found the gold- the Indians refused to say. The exact location of the real “Estrella”mine, remains a mystery to this day.

Werner Senn, A Swiss born local, recalls seeing 34 American fighter planes landing on Volcan’s grassy airstrip. I showed Werner some pictures of vintage US warplanes and he immediately identified the aircraft as the stubby looking Grumman F4F “Wildcat.” Why the US had such an overwhelming presence in this story is still one of the many unanswered questions.


This story might have faded into history except for the relentless digging by staff. We are still trying to verify our latest findings but it might appear that Gaston Van Steck DID find the gold and was murdered and the gold was spirited away.

A son of one of the men present at the time claims that his father told him that Van Steck did not have a gun. The police officers present obviously did. Van Steck died from a .38 bullet wound to the head. The same calibre as carried by the police.

The story is . . . that the gold was later removed and buried in the middle of a pig pen, in the home of a German  immigrant called Wasser.

Wasser then  would take small amounts of the gold to Panama City to be sold.

On one of these trips, when Wasser was in Panama City, a Costa Rican employee at Wasser's farm dug up the gold, under the pig pen and fled.

Wasser pursued the thief into Costa Rica but never found either the gold or the thief.

In 2019, I met a man who had been searching for the elusive 
Estrella" mine for nearly 20 years. He claimed he had found the buried gold. It was in the same form as described by the turn of the century Indians that being in 2 inch wide strips and 2 feet in length.

The last I heard this man was obtaining the money to buy the land where the gold was buried. Thereby having legal claim to the treasure.

He offered to give me some of the gold but I declined and said my gold would be in filming and writing about this story.

To this day I have not heard anything further from this man or had any confirmation whether this account was true or not.

David Dell, and in memory of my good friend Ivan Flores,

March 2022


Lets face it-the park was an embarrasment. However, Last Sunday morning, a group of concerned citizens decided enough was enough and knocked down the half size balusters and with a coat of paint-Volcan civic pride was restored.

Volcan is a city that cares. On the same day as the park clean up was underway a few hundred yards away the regular monthly spay and neuter clinic was close to setting a new record.

Are we a caring community in Volcan? Let our actions and pictures speak for themselves.