November 27, 2021

Mystery surrounds disappearance of American surfer in Dominican Republic

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1456418985797By Cristina Corbin From FOX NEWS

It was Darryl Fornatora’s Christmas present to himself — a seven-day vacation in the Dominican Republican surfing the waters off the picturesque Caribbean island.

But the 46-year-old Fornatora, of Palm Beach, Fla., never made his flight home — and nearly a month after his Jan. 27 disappearance, his family and authorities have no information on his whereabouts.

“We do not have enough information to lead us in any direction.”

– Christina Hendrex, Darryl Fornatora’s sister

Fornatora, a tennis instructor whose obsession is surfing, landed in Puerto Plata on Jan. 25 with a friend and fellow surfing enthusiast, according to his family.

Fornatora text-messaged friends and family on the day of his arrival and checked into a villa in the coastal town of Caberete with his travel partner, Matt Rigby.

1456420516591On Jan. 26, after five hours riding the surf, an exhausted Fornatora messaged his mother, Nancy — who always worried about surfing accidents — to let her know he had left the water.

“He said he was out of the water,” Fornatora’s sister, Christina Hendrex, told

“They had surfed for hours that day. It was epic. He was tired. He told my mom, ‘I love you,'” Hendrex said.

What happened to Fornatora next is a mystery.

Local authorities ruled out drowning for Fornatora, an experienced surfer and swimmer who works as the director of the Lake Park Tennis Center in Lake Park, Fla.

Search and rescue crews, including divers, helicopters and planes, have scoured the coast and surrounding reefs for any sign of Fornatora, who is 6-foot-4 and weighs 210 pounds.

Fornatora and Rigby were scheduled to fly home together on Jan. 31. But for reasons unknown, Rigby cut his trip short and returned to Florida Jan. 28. Fornatora’s return ticket went unchanged — and unused.

A day later, on Jan. 29, Rigby called Fornatora’s parents and said he had not heard or seen their son since the afternoon of Jan. 27, according to the family.

“He [Rigby] didn’t contact the embassy or police, which I don’t understand,” Hendrex said. “He also took some of Darryl’s things back with him, like his surfboard and his computer.”

Rigby, of Jupiter, Fla., did not return multiple requests for comment when contacted by The Fornatora family claims Rigby’s recollection of events has changed.

“The original story was that he left early because there was no surf and Darryl wanted to stay, but then it unfolded into something different,” Hendrex claims.

“The latest is that Darryl was acting paranoid and upset. Matt told him to ‘calm down’ and suggested they go into town. Then Matt said he turned his back and Darryl was just gone,” according to Hendrex.

The claims of paranoia were reportedly corroborated by other, unidentified witnesses – leading to rumors Fornatora may have ingested a substance sprinkled on marijuana cigarettes that can put a user into a “voodoo-like trance.”
Dominican Republic Overview | FindTheData

The Palm Beach Post sought to compare Fornatora’s case to that of Patrick Brown, a 37-year-old Canadian who ingested the substance while on vacation in the Dominican in April. After showing signs of paranoia, Brown reportedly hid in a jungle area for six days before he was found by authorities.

“Witnesses said he was acting paranoid, scared and fearful for his safety,” Hendrex said of her brother. “We don’t know if it was a situation where that was an induced state of paranoia or he had something genuinely to be fearful of.”

“Nobody knows the answer to that,” she said.

Police probing Fornatora’s disappearance have given no indication that they are seriously pursuing the marijuana theory. The U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo declined to comment on an ongoing investigation.

Hendrex, who recently traveled to the Dominican Republican from her El Paso, Texas, home to help in the search, described the family’s ordeal as agonizing.

“I don’t know what to think and that’s what is so heartbreaking,” Hendrex said. “We do not have enough information to lead us in any direction.”

“We’re really struggling. Being in a state of limbo and having no answers is torture,” she said.

A reward equalling about $4,500 in U.S. dollars has been offered on the island for information leading to Fornatora. Friends and family have also taken to social media, setting up a Facebook page devoted to the search for Fornatora.

Anyone with information on Darryl Fornatora’s whereabouts is urged to call the embassy tipline at 809-368-7713.

Cristina Corbin is a reporter for

Fornatora left his home in Florida to vacation in the Dominican coastal town of Caberete, known for its beautiful beaches and surfing opportunities. (Photo by Alex Proimos)

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