On his 11th day of being lost in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and being "this close" to eating bugs, 18-year-old Austin Bohanan woke up Tuesday morning on the top of a ridge, looked down, and saw boats floating on Abrams Creek", Chief Ranger Steve Kloster said.
At a news conference at park headquarters on Wednesday afternoon, Kloster relayed the Blount County teen's initial story of how he emerged uninjured despite entering the park with only light food and water.
Austin and his stepfather, identified as Hubert Dyer Jr., somehow became separated in the Shop Creek area of the park on the afternoon of August 11, 2017, Austin told park rangers. "We don't have any reason to believe that he was with anybody else," Kloster said.
It wasn't until the night of August 13, 2017 that Austin was reported missing. Kloster didn't say who reported the teen missing, and said Dyer didn't immediately report him missing because the family initially believed they could find him.
The pair were in the park hunting for ginseng, Kloster said Dyer told authorities. Ginseng is a popular medicinal herb used in energy drinks and for various other purposes. It is illegal to remove plants from national parks.
"Later on we’ll look at the law enforcement component," the chief ranger said, "but we’re not there right now."
After being separated, Austin climbed to the top of a ridge and tried multiple times to call his mother, but the calls did not go through, Kloster said. The teen spent the night atop that ridge.
In the morning, Austin climbed down, found a creek believed to be Tabcat Creek and followed it until he encountered Panther Creek.
The teen hiked up Panther Creek for "two or three days" until he realized he needed to travel in the other direction and turned around, Kloster said, adding that the area, marked by steep gorges and several waterfalls, is very difficult to traverse.
Austin told rangers that at one point, he heard a search helicopter and tried to get the attention of the pilot, but the vegetation was too dense and limited visibility, Kloster said. Helicopters equipped with infrared devices were used to aid in the search, as were canine teams from the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency.
Austin "drank the water but that was it," Kloster said, indicating the teen ate almost nothing while inside the park.
On Tuesday morning, August 11, 2017 Austin awoke on a ridge where Panther and Abrams creeks meet. He scrambled down to the bottom of Abrams Creek and he was finally able to wave down a boat, which picked him up and ultimately gave him a ride back to his family.
More than 100 people were involved in the search for Austin, who Kloster described as a "moving target." Although they found no clues to Austin's whereabouts, Kloster said search teams persevered, working long hours in 90-degree weather.
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18 years old
Weight: 130 lbs.
Foul Play Suspected: No
Suspected Suicide: No
Cause of Death: Believed Alive / Not Dead
Reported missing on August 13, 2017 - 1779 days, 16 hours, 42 minutes ago
Found on August 22, 2017 - 1770 days, 16 hours, 42 minutes ago
This case file was posted on
Mar 17, 2021 at 12:37
This case file was last modified on
Apr 18, 2021 at 00:21
This case file has been assigned the Missing Persons ID 884
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