BLOUNT COUNTY, Tenn. (WATE) – Park rangers with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park shared new details of how a teenager survived for 11 days in the wilderness before he walked out of the park alive on Tuesday.
Rangers said Austin Bohanan walked out of the remote back country area near Tabcat Creek around 2:30 p.m. Tuesday.
He went missing in the Chilhowee Lake area 11 days earlier. Bohanan was then taken to Blount Memorial Hospital and soon after, he was taken home.
Bohanan was covered head to toe in bug bites on Wednesday. He was a little malnourished and was battling a slight cold but at least the 18-year-old is alive.
“I was concerned yes, worried no,” he said.
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He was alone and lost in the park after hiking with his stepdad. The teen said he never feared death.
“He knew the trail and knew the area well but I didn’t. It was the first time I had been in the area,” Bohanan said.
Bohanan said they got separated after his stepdad lost his glasses.
“I guess he went on a little bit to try to find those lenses and I didn’t see him again after that,” he said.
He said he tried to make noise but no one heard him. It wasn’t until two days later when Bohanan was reported missing by his family.
“I know there is a reason, but that won’t be discussed I guess you could say. It’s a family matter,” the teen said.
He said he was alone with just a backpack and some water. He headed for higher ground to call his mom for help, but it went to voicemail.
“I wasn’t too concerned because I thought I was closer to the road than I was,” said Bohanan.
When nighttime fell, he went to bed. The next day, he looked for a water source. He said his instinct was to stay by the water and stay hydrated. Bohanan said he survived only on water and never ate during the 11 days in the woods.
“I prayed every day and it helped me drive forward,” he said.
He said he stayed by a creek most of the time and then on Tuesday, he found a boater. The boater helped reunite Bohanan with his family, including his biological dad, Brian.
“I think I beat my fastest ever 40 time trying to get to him and just grabbed him and hugged him and he and I just started crying,” said Brian Bohanan.
Park officials said in a press conference on Wednesday Bohanan and his stepdad may have been looking for ginseng. Bohanan said he was not out there looking for ginseng and strongly told WATE 6 On Your Side they were out in the park hiking.
Bohanan plans to join the Marine Corps and will be leaving for South Carolina in October for basic training.