An 18-year-old Tennessee resident who went missing for 11 days in the Great Smoky Mountains found his way out of the woods and in to safety on Aug. 22 after searches involving over 100 people were unsuccessful at finding him.
The teen, Austin Bohanan, got separated from his stepfather while hiking. His great-uncle Clifton Hearon says it is not unusual for Bohanan to “go camping and spend a day or two alone,” Hearon told AP.
Bohanan went on the hiking trip with just a little bit of food and water. He quickly ran out and was about to try eating bugs before finally finding his way back, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports.
The teen and his stepfather, Hubert Dyer Jr., separated while on a hiking trip on Aug. 11, but the family didn’t report the teen missing until Aug. 13, thinking they could find him. The pair were out searching for ginseng plants, even though it is illegal to remove plants from the mountain park.
After realizing he was lost, Bohanan tried calling his mother. He climbed to a high point, but he couldn’t get connectivity. He ended up sleeping on that mountain ridge.
In the morning, he tried to find his way back by following creeks. “But that is a very difficult area to hike. There is a lot of steep gorges in that area. There are several waterfalls in that area. So just saying he hiked down the creek sounds like it’s easy. It’s not,” said Chief Ranger Steve Kloster in a press conference, via the Knoxville News Sentinel.
He still couldn’t find a way that led out of the park. At one point a search crew helicopter passed overhead, but he could not get the pilot’s attention through the dense plant growth.
Search teams used helicopters with infrared devices and teams of search dogs, but still couldn’t find him. They worked long hours in 90-degree weather without success.
After surviving only on the park’s abundant natural sources of water, Bohanan spotted boats on one of the creeks. “He was finally able to wave down a boat. The boat came over and picked him up. And then took him back to the boat launch and gave him a ride down to his family,” said Kloster.
The park’s chief ranger never doubted the teen would eventually emerge.
“Why I thought he was alive: He was young, he was in shape, there was all kinds of water out there, the weather wasn’t 10 degrees below zero.”