On Tuesday, an elderly Cheektowaga man missed his connecting flight to Buffalo at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City and promptly disappeared.
For days, relatives frantically phoned area hospitals and homeless shelters as investigators searched the airport on foot and reviewed hours of security footage, looking for any sign of 81-year-old Pasquale DeNora, who was returning from a vacation in his native Italy.
Then, just hours before the search stretched into a fifth day, the long-awaited call finally came: DeNora had been found – and he was unharmed.
DeNora was located at about 9 p.m. Friday in Manhattan by an officer with the New York City Police Department’s 13th District, according to his daughter, Mary Steinhauser. “He’s stable, he’s fine,” she said, adding that DeNora was spending the night in a New York City hospital for evaluation.
A relative in nearby Pelham planned to visit him at the hospital today.
DeNora arrived Tuesday at JFK, where he was expected to catch a Delta Airlines flight to Buffalo. But his son, Nick DeNora, said his father never arrived at Buffalo Niagara International Airport. His luggage, which contained most of his personal belongings, including most of his cash and several credit cards, arrived with his flight.
That set off a frantic search to locate DeNora, who was visiting relatives in his hometown, a small village near Naples in southern Italy. Steinhauser said the family called New York City-area hospitals, homeless shelters and morgues looking for any sign of DeNora. For days, no one outside the airport reported seeing him, leading relatives and investigators to believe as recently as Friday afternoon that DeNora was somewhere in the airport.
Investigators from the Port Authority Police Department, which has jurisdiction over JFK, combed through security camera footage and searched the airport on foot for days. Footage showed DeNora arriving in the terminal at JFK, and at several other locations in the airport.
The investigation was complicated by the sheer size of the airport and the amount of security footage produced there daily.
Hours before his father was finally located, Nick DeNora said the lengthy search had taken a toll on the family.
“It’s stressing us to the limit,” he said.
Nick DeNora described his father as “a regular guy” who could look after himself in spite of his age. Still, the family took precautions when planning his solo trip to Italy, accompanying him to his departing flight in Buffalo and arranging to have a cousin meet him at the terminal in Rome.
In New York City on Tuesday, DeNora was supposed to have been met by a Delta Airlines employee with a wheelchair to ensure he made his connecting flight, his son said, explaining that the family called the airline ahead of time to arrange the pick-up.
But according to Nick DeNora, airport security footage clearly shows that no one was waiting to meet DeNora when he disembarked his flight from Italy.
Steinhauser said it was her understanding that DeNora managed to locate his departing terminal without assistance but narrowly missed his flight to Buffalo. Nick DeNora said Delta “dropped the ball” by failing to provide his father the promised assistance.
In a statement provided by company spokesman Russell Cason, Delta confirmed it was aware of DeNora’s situation, saying it cooperated with Port Authority investigators and provided what information it could about his last known whereabouts.
“Delta sincerely regrets the unfortunate situation regarding Mr. DeNora, and we completely understand the concerns of his family,” the statement read. “We are cooperating fully with Port Authority officials who are investigating the circumstances, and we have been in contact with the family. We are all hopeful for a positive outcome.”
Steinhauser said her father had begun showing signs of dementia, including short-term memory loss, stemming from a history of heart problems. Nick DeNora added that his father suffered a heart attack several years ago and takes preventative medication for blood pressure and cholesterol.
Those medications, which DeNora took with him to Italy, were not among the personal belongings contained in his luggage when it arrived in Buffalo, Nick DeNora said.
With the knowledge of DeNora’s medical history in mind, family members expressed concerns that he may have suffered a stroke, become disoriented due to memory loss, or even fallen victim to foul play.
But when the news broke that DeNora had been found, the family’s relief was palpable. “It’s a wonderful thing,” said Steinhauser.