We all like happy endings, and ones that turn out with a great tale along the way.
In something out of a novel, 18 year old Austin Bohanan ended up separated from his father in the Smoky Mountains National Park, and was missing for eleven days without rations of food or water.
The teenager 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 the 11th, Austin told the park rangers.
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Steve Kloster, Chief Ranger at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, held up a map outlining their search routes for Austin Bohanan after they discovered him alive to show the press just how much ground he had covered.
“We don't have any reason to believe that he was with anybody else," Kloster said.
It wasn't until late at night on August 13th that Austin was reported missing. Kloster didn't say on Wednesday who reported the teen missing and said Dyer didn't immediately report him missing because the family initially believed they could find him or that he would find his way back to them.
The father and son duo were in the park hunting for ginseng, Kloster said the 18-year-old Dyer told authorities.
In the Great Smoky Mountains, Ginseng can be found growing wild and it's popular medicinal herb used in energy drinks and for various other purposes. It is, however, illegal to remove any 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."
Austin says that after he became lost of his father he climbed to the tallest ridge and attempted to call his mother, but he couldn't get reception in the mountainous forest region.
As it became dark Austin found a large tree to sleep beside hoping it would give him shade from bears or other predators.
In the morning he began to hike back down the ridge until he encountered a stream he believed was Talbat Creek and followed that until he reached Panther Creek.
The 18-year-old said he spent “two or three days” hiking up Panther Creek, before it dawned on him he was only going further into the mountains and had to turn around, taking an additional two days or so.
He said that there were "steep gorges" and "several waterfalls," and that it was "very difficult" to traverse.
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During the week and a half in the woods, Austin told the rangers that he actually heard a search helicopter whirring overhead and tried to get the attention of the pilot, but due to the dense and extreme vegetation in the area there was limited to no visibility.
Tennessee Emergency Management said that their helicopters are equipped with infrared devices were used to aid in the search, as were canine teams, but apparently, the lush greenery hid the child's presence.
Austin said that he "drank the water but that was it”, indicating that the teenager ate almost nothing while inside the park.
According to Austin he was growing desperate and had been considering eating bugs to survive.
On the following Tuesday morning, Austin woke up on a tall ridge where Panther and Abrams creeks meet.
He claims he then "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, Kloster said.
"I serve an almighty God! Praise be given unto him!" Brooke Bohanan , Austin's mother wrote on her Facebook on Tuesday afternoon, around eight hours after she posted a prayer saying, "Please LORD bring our boy back to us some way or another."
Austin was transported to the Blount County Medical Center and later released with no injuries, and he's thankful to have survived.
According to officials over 100 people were involved in the search for Austin, who Koster later described as a "moving target."
Although they found no exact clues to Austin's whereabouts during their campaign to rescue him, Kloster said search teams persevered through working long hours in 90-degree hot weather.
"Why I thought he was alive, is that he was young, he was in shape, there were all kinds of water out there, the weather wasn’t 10 degrees below zero," the Chief Ranger said. "And so if he was in those areas, I felt confident he could still be alive.”
Kloster said he's worked at the park since 1988 and in his long career, he can't remember another search effort lasting this long where the lost person was found alive.
The Chief Ranger thanked the Bohanan family, who he said "supported our decisions" and were along Highway 129 "every day during this search."
"The Bohanan family was always there to serve food, to serve cold drinks, and it was a huge morale boost to our searches. So I want to thank them for that."
Austin is blessed to have survived this endeavor, and hopefully next time he won't go chasing after Ginseng, or if he does he will bring a compass and a map.
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