The six-part documentary series, which debuts Sunday, chronicles Roman and Peggy Dial's search for their 27-year-old son

By K.C. Baker
Updated May 20, 2016 07:10 PM
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Credit: Courtesy of the Dial family

Roman and Peggy Dial want answers.

On July 10, 2014, the Alaskan couple’s 27-year-old son, Cody Dial, an experienced outdoorsman, set out to trek through the jungles of Costa Rica’s lush but treacherous Corcovado National Park. The day before he left, he sent an email to his parents from an Internet caf , joking that since he would be hiking between the park’s main trail and the coastline, that, “It should be difficult to get lost forever.”

That was the last time Roman and Peggy, ever heard from their son.

“He is on our minds 24 hours a day,” says Peggy. “The only time we get any relief is when we are sleeping.”

Cody had the skills and knowledge to trek through the dense rainforest alone. As a teenager, he had visited the Costa Rican jungle with his father, a famed National Geographic Explorer and adventurer who taught his son everything he knew about mountain climbing, rafting and survivalist skills. Cody grew up learning how to navigate the Alaskan wilderness with his father, who took him on many of his explorations, including to Borneo and Australia.

In October 2013, Cody had taken a break from pursuing a Masters degree in Environmental Science at Alaska Pacific University to travel. In January 2014 he started out in Mexico with his girlfriend and was later joined by his father. In February 2014, he set off on his own for a tour of Central America – including the rainforest in Corcovado National Park.

Even though tourists are required to hire a guide under Costa Rican law, Cody chose not to use one and decided to hike off the permitted trails.

Cody always emailed his parents, telling them where he was traveling, in case anything ever happened to him. When the Dials didn’t hear anything from their son for ten days after he first emailed them about his five-day trek into the jungle, they knew something was wrong.

“I felt nauseated and kind of light-headed,” Roman says. “I was in emotional shock, like, ‘Oh, no. Oh my God. This is bad because no matter what’s happened, if he is ten days overdue, it’s not good.”

On July 23, 2014, Roman, 55, who has a Ph.D. in biological sciences from Stanford and teaches math and biology at the Alaska Pacific University said he and Peggy, 54, an elementary school teacher, reported their son missing. The next day, he was on a plane to Costa Rica on a mission to find Cody.

“I had a lot of emotional angst and pain but I funneled that into what I had to do. I had to go down there.”

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When Roman arrived in Costa Rica, the government and the Red Cross were already searching for Cody, but didn t want him helping, he says. “They were doing a great job, but I wanted to do a more focused search in the area,” he says. “I wanted to check the areas where he said he would be. They forbade me from going in the jungle because they were concerned about my emotional state. But I could not sit by the sidelines.”

When the Costa Rican government and the Red Cross stopped searching for Cody in early August, Roman pushed to get official permission to look for his son. Roman and Peggy continued to search the area while asking the U.S. embassy in Costa Rica for help, getting few answers.

Undeterred, they began a new search in July 2015, this time with the help of Carson Ulrich, a former DEA special agent and Ken Fournier, a retired Air Force Pararescue Jumper – and a documentary film crew, which chronicled his journey in the six-part documentary crime series, Missing Dial, on the National Geographic Channel, which debuts Sunday.

“The official narrative was, ‘Your son went into the jungle without a guide and probably got bitten by a snake,'” says Missing Dial director and executive producer Aengus James. After Roman’s extensive search, says James, “he was left with a real conviction that his son did not die at the hands of the jungle. He thought, ‘There is foul play here.'”

“I hoped private investigators and the presence of a film crew would add urgency and momentum in the search,” says Roman. “I was right. Within a week we received a significant break in the case.”

The series follows Roman and Peggy for more than seven months as they navigate the jungle’s rough terrain, searching for their son, who they initially thought might have gotten hurt by falling into a canyon or being bitten by a snake.

But as their travels unfold, they begin to suspect something far more sinister has happened to Cody – including the possibility that he was kidnapped or murdered.

“We just want answers to our questions about what happened to our son,” says Roman. “I go to bed wondering and I wake up wondering.”

On Thursday, Roman and Peggy met for the first time with the FBI, which has now joined the missing persons investigation.

“We’re really appreciative of all the help we have gotten from the Costa Rican authorities and the embassy and the FBI. I know this is one of many cases they have to work on but I feel like I have to do something about it because he is my son.”

He and his wife are still holding out hope that their son is alive. “It seems unlikely but weird things can happen. You never know.”

Missing Dial premieres Sunday (10 p.m. ET) on the National Geographic Channel. Episodes will also be available on Hulu.