There are many rumors circulating in southern Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula about what happened to 27-year-old Alaska native Cody Dial, who has been missing for several weeks. While search efforts have focused on the rugged Corcovado National Park, some local residents claimed they saw Dial hiding out in gold mining camps or palling around with known criminals. But Dial’s father, Roman Dial, believes his son is still inside the park, fighting to live.
“My favorite theory is that he is surviving somewhere in an inaccessible area waiting for us to find him,” Roman Dial told The Tico Times. “It would be a real wild shift in character for him to go off mining or hang out with criminals.”
A biology professor, National Geographic explorer and legendary adventure racer, Roman Dial, along with his wife Peggy Dial, instilled in their son a love of the outdoors. Cody Dial grew up to become an experienced backcountry hiker, and at 17, he became the youngest finisher of the Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic, a body-punishing 160-mile mountain race.
Cody Dial described a planned trek into Corcovado to his father via email days before he was to enter the park. He had been in Corcovado before, when he was 12, walking the Los Patos to La Sirena trail with his father. This time, however, Cody Dial’s hike would be more challenging, via closed-off routes mostly used by illegal gold miners.
The emails timed Dial’s first entry into the park at about July 10. According to Red Cross officials, the last credible witness account put him near the eastern park boundaries at Río Tigre on July 22.
With Cody Dial’s extensive backwoods experience, search-and-rescue teams believed he could have managed these challenging closed-off sections on his own. It is also this experience that leads his father to believe that Cody could still be alive.
“I don’t think he would have made a mistake,” Roman Dial said. “But I do think an accident could have happened. There are snakes, and bad people and acts of God. All of those things can happen to anybody.”
For two weeks the Costa Rican Red Cross scoured the park. They spoke to gold miners and locals and flew helicopters over the mountains. But rescuers have turned up no trace of the hiker. On Aug. 5, the Red Cross ended its search amid a flurry of conflicting reports.
“It has gotten really confusing, because we have reports from people who believe they’ve seen him on the same day in areas that are kilometers and kilometers apart,” Gilberth Doundi, one of the Red Cross search coordinators, told The Tico Times. “We believe he left and re-entered the park a number of times, but that is really the only thing we are confident about.”
With the Red Cross gone, Roman Dial and five friends have taken over the search with special permission from the Environment Ministry. Through conversations with gold miners, he now believes his son may have explored difficult-to-access canyons near a gold-mining camp.
After repelling through some of the canyons himself, Roman Dial has now asked the Costa Rican government to request help from U.S. special forces to plunge further into the hard-to-reach areas. He likely will head to San José this week to continue lobbying for that assistance.
With three weeks of searching already behind him in Costa Rica, Roman Dial said he hopes to stay as long as needed to find his son. But he acknowledged the search is wearing on him.
“It is hard for me to be here and not know what is going on. I am constantly reminded of the lifetime I’ve spent with him [Cody Dial] wandering the tropics,” Roman Dial said. “Maybe he’s murdered. Maybe he’s still stuck out there in the mountains and surviving in some inaccessible area. A week ago I was more sure than I am now.”