NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A teenager who went missing for 11 days without food in Tennessee's Great Smoky Mountains National Park is back with his family after he emerged from the woods this week and flagged a passing boat for help, the National Park Service said Wednesday.
Park officials said 18-year-old Austin Bohanan was found uninjured Tuesday.
Park Chief Ranger Steve Kloster said he remained confident throughout the search that Bohanan was alive, even though a rescue team of more than 100 people found no clues he had survived across a rugged 6,700-acre search area. Officials believe Bohanan was within those search parameters the whole time.
"He was young. He was in shape. There was all kinds of water out there," Kloster said at a news conference Wednesday. "The weather wasn't, you know, 10 degrees below zero. If he was in those areas, I felt confident he was still alive."
Officials said Bohanan had become separated from his stepfather while hiking. Then he climbed atop a ridge to call his mother for help, but his cellphone calls didn't go through.
He told rangers he followed two creeks for days looking for the highway. Bohanan was able to drink water from creeks. But he ate nothing, officials said.
"He told us he was getting this close to start eating bugs," Kloster said.
He spent two or three days hiking up along a creek, until he realized he had to head back down the other direction. Part of his travels required navigating around steep gorges and waterfalls, Kloster said.
At one point, Bohanan heard a search helicopter and tried to wave it down, but the canopy of trees blocked him from view, Kloster said. Crews searched on foot, in boats and with dogs.
"Austin was a moving target," Kloster said. "And so, we were either just ahead of Austin. Or we were just behind Austin."
Bohanan was last seen Aug. 11 and was reported missing Aug. 13. He was found Tuesday in remote Blount County, about 40 miles south of Knoxville.
The family didn't report him as missing right away because they were initially confident they could find him, Kloster said.