BLOUNT COUNTY - UPDATE Wednesday, Aug 23, 2017 at 3 p.m.:
Great Smoky Mountain National Park officials said Wednesday a teen who survived 11 days in the park may have been looking for ginseng.
Austin Bohanan's stepfather was with Bohanan on Friday afternoon, Aug. 11, when they were separated. His stepfather, Hubert Dyer, Jr. told park officials he was looking for ginseng, according to Chief Ranger Steve Kloster.
At this point in the investigation, the law enforcement component has not been looked at. Kloster said they were focused on a search and rescue mission to locate Austin and bring him back to his family. They will look at the law enforcement angle at a later date.
"It is illegal to take any plants out of the park," Kloster said when asked about ginseng.
Kloster said Bohanan told them he drank water from streams and got close to eating bugs for food after he had been out there for so long.
Park officials said they will go back and talk to Austin next week after he has fully recovered. He was released from the hospital just a few hours after he walked out of the park.
Park rangers said Bohanan told them that after he was separated from his stepfather on Friday afternoon in the Shop Creek area, he climbed to the top of a ridge to try to call his mom for help.
Austin went missing Friday night, Aug. 11, but wasn't reported missing until Sunday night, Aug. 13. When asked about the delay in reporting his disappearance, park officials said his family told them they were "confident" they could find him initially. When they couldn't find him, they reported his disappearance to Blount County authorities.
UPDATE Wednesday, Aug 23, 2017 at 11:28 a.m.:
A teenager that was missing for 11 days in the Great Smoky Mountains walked out of the woods along Panther Creek and flagged down a passing boat for help on Aug. 22 at around 2:30 p.m., according to park officials.
Austin Bohanan was uninjured when he reunited with his family, who had been gathered daily near the site since his disappearance.
Bohanan was taken to the hospital and released a few hours later.
Park rangers say Bohanan told them that after he was separated from his stepfather on Friday afternoon in the Shop Creek area, he climbed to the top of the ridge to try to call his mom for help.
After the call didn't go through a few times, rangers said he told them he tried to follow a creek out of the woods. He believes he followed Tabcat and Panther Creeks, both upstream and downstream, for days within the 6,700-acre search area. He was trying to go towards Highway 129.
“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,” said Park Chief Ranger Steve Kloster. “We faced multiple challenges, including a moving target in dense conditions, but our search teams never gave up hope.”
At one point, Bohanan told rangers he heard a search helicopter and tried to climb to a high point where he could be seen.
Park officials said while Bohanan appears to have remained within the search area, he was constantly moving and left little sign behind.
More than 100 searchers from multiple agencies searched for Bohanan. Dog teams, boat operators and air operations also helped in the search.
The Chief Ranger of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Steve Kloster, will answer questions regarding the park's efforts in the search of Austin Bohanan at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday. WBIR plans to stream that LIVE.
ORIGINAL STORY Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017:
A Blount County teenager is safe and out of the hospital after he was reported missing in the Great Smoky Mountains for more than a week.
Authorities say 18-year-old Austin Bohanan was last seen hiking off trail in the Smokies on Aug. 11, until he walked out of the backcountry Tuesday afternoon.
Dozens of emergency responders, including K9s, spent days searching for Bohanan in a 6,700-acre search area.
Officials are still investigating the situation, and Bohanan's family has asked for privacy at this time.
Dwight McCarter is a former Great Smoky Mountains National Park Ranger who knows what it takes to survive alone in the wild.
When McCarter heard about Bohanan's disappearance, he had a good idea about how someone would have survived if they were lost in the woods.
"You want to stay with the streams, and he did," said McCarter.
McCarter believes they would need to stay near water to make it out alive.
"Evidently he kept going to a good supply of water on his trip, and he still had enough energy to walk out at Tabcat," said McCarter.
McCarter said someone stuck in the woods would also have to rely on nature for food.
"Maybe a few huckleberries or blueberries or raspberries," said McCarter. "But they haven't been getting a lot of protein."
For people he's found in the past, it's a slow process back to feeling normal.
"Be aware that the moment that you find them, they've been running on adrenaline, and they're by themselves," said McCarter.
The adrenaline helps keep them alive, but makes it hard to switch back to a normal diet.
"A lot of them that have been in the woods for a while don't hold food down well," said McCarter.
While McCarter wasn't involved in the search directly, he's glad to see Bohanan back with his family.
McCarter said if you go hiking, go with someone.
If you're going alone, it's not a bad idea to pack a compass and extra supplies, because you never know what may happen.
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