A Tennessee teenager who had been missing in Great Smoky Mountains National Park walked out of the woods, unhurt, after surviving 11 nights in one of its wildest corners.
Austin Bohanan, 18, who lives in Blount County, Tenn., had been last seen hiking off-trail in the park’s remote southwest corner of the park on the Aug. 11. His family reported him missing two days later.
Helicopters, boats and dog teams helped rangers search dense vegetation in steep mountain terrain for more than a week, with few clues. The 6,700-acre search area has no maintained trails, only old roadbeds littered with downed trees from wind storms.
More than 100 trained searchers hunted for a teen who was last seen wearing blue jeans, a T-shirt and blue Nike baseball cap. Community members donated food and water for the gathering mass of searchers.
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The teen “had light food and water and was not anticipating spending the night in the park,” park spokeswoman Jamie Sanders told the Knoxville News Sentinel.
Then the search was over.
Bohanan walked out of the woods along Panther Creek at mid-afternoon Tuesday and flagged down a passing boater. He was sent to a local hospital and released a few hours later.
“I serve an almighty God! Praise be given unto him!” Bohanan’s stepmother, Brooke Bohanan, posted on Facebook that night.
Details of his ordeal were scant Wednesday, but Bohanan told rangers he had become separated from his stepfather while hiking on a Friday afternoon in the park’s Shop Creek area.
He climbed a ridge to try to call his mother for help, but several attempts failed. He then tried for days to follow creeks out of the woods to a highway, walking upstream and downstream through the tangle of plants and fallen trees.
At one point, rangers said Wednesday, Bohanan heard a search helicopter and tried to climb to a high point where he could be seen. He remained within the search area but moved constantly and left little sign behind in the dense foliage.
“From day one, we treated the search for Austin as an emergency and appreciate the resources from across the region that came to our aid to help us actively and aggressively search through extremely tough terrain,” the park’s chief ranger, Steve Kloster, said in a statement. “We faced multiple challenges, including a moving target in dense conditions, but our search teams never gave up hope.”