Cracking the case
Park Chief Ranger Steve Kloster had been working as an officer for several years now, cases of missing people were not uncommon especially considering the fact that the area was a 6,700-acre forest but never in his entire career had he encountered a case like this before.
Kloster had a feeling in his gut that something was up. And the key to unraveling the mystery was in the hands of the boy’s stepfather.
For 11 days, officers haven’t found any trace of the boy. When his boy’s stepfather reported the case to the authorities, two days had passed since he initially disappeared. “Why would he report it just now?” Kloster thought to himself.
But the officers paid no mind to it and immediately dispatched a search party in hopes of finding the boy. But Kloster’s gut feeling never went away.
Kosler was worried that the trail might have gone cold already. It had been two whole days since the boy first went missing. But they took their chances anyway. Kloster dispatched helicopters with infrared cameras along with canine units from the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency.
Kloster was willing to do anything to find the boy but even after several days have passed, they still don’t have any leads. This raised suspicion for Kloster. Was the information the boy’s stepfather gave incomplete?
The clock was ticking, it had already been more than a week since the boy first went missing. Kosler was starting to get suspicious. He reviewed the information that the stepfather gave them and he felt that there was something missing.
Kosler looked at the map. The forest was more than 6,000 acres, finding the boy in a forest filled with trees was not easy. The stepfather’s vague instructions didn’t help as well. The authorities then decided to give the stepfather a serious talk.
The boy’s father, Hubert was asked to come with Kolster. He was sat down and interrogated. Hubert was nervous, but he knew that if he didn’t tell the truth now, they might never be able to find his stepson.
Kolster did his best to squeeze the information out of Hubert. It took them several hours of interrogation but in the end, Kolster was finally able to get the information that he needed.
Into the woods
Austin Bohannon was just going to accompany his step-father Hubert into the woods for a quick errand, but little did he know that tragedy was about to strike.
The eighteen-year-old boy hiked with his father into the harsh wilderness on the Smokey Mountain trails. This wasn’t Austin’s first time going hiking, but it was the first time where he went missing during a hiking trip.
Austin wasn’t new to the great outdoors. In fact, he was an experienced hiker and was an avid fan of the wilderness. The trail that Austin and his stepfather used was a familiar trail too, they had trekked through that trail multiple times.
Yet how can an experienced outdoorsman go missing for 11 days?
The stepfather and son duo went on their way to hike together. The trail was familiar and they were both confident that they wouldn’t have any problems. They’ve practically memorized all the landmarks along the way.
But it seems the duo made the mistake of letting their guard down.
As the duo made their way around the creek, they kept their eyes peeled. They looked carefully at the shrubs and plants along the way. Although Hubert was well aware that what they were about to do was illegal, the market for the root they were looking for was huge.
Just 1 pound of the root can be sold for up to $600! But Hubert had no idea that karma was about to strike.
Hubert knew that he might potentially get in trouble for telling the authorities about what happened but he was willing to risk it. After all, finding his stepson was his top priority.
Hubert told the police that was they were about to fetch the root, Hubert slipped on a wet rock. This caused his glasses to drop into the river…
Austin knew well that without his stepfather’s glasses, he would have extreme difficulty in seeing things. Hubert panicked, “How can I walk through the trails now?” he thought to himself.
But Austin knew what he had to do. Without hesitation, Austin jumped into the river to look for Hubert’s glasses. After noticing that his stepson jumped into the rive, Hubert jumped in as well to join him in the search for his glasses. But since Hubert’s eyesight wasn’t that good, he began to unknowingly wade away from where his son was.
Before Hubert was able to realize that they had been separated, it was already too late. When he turned around, Austin was nowhere to be found. Hubert felt his gut sink into his stomach, “Where could he be?” he wondered to himself.
The duo had no idea that they would be separated from each other. Hubert tried to retrace his steps…
As Hubert walked around the vast forest, he called out his son’s name. But to no avail, he received no reply. He tried to look for signs and traces of the boy but it was as if Austin vanished into thin air.
Thankfully, Kloster didn’t want to end the case at just that.
When Hubert was interrogated by Kloster, he confessed everything. Down to the reason why they were even in the forest in the first place. Thanks to the new information that Hubert gave, the authorities now have a good lead.
As expected, the roots of the wild ginseng that Hubert pulled out were confiscated. But he didn’t mind, he just wanted his stepson back.
Based on the new information that they gathered, Kloster made a few phone calls to ask for advice as to where to start looking. He called the local guides around the area and asked about where the wild ginseng typically grew.
The search had finally begun and Kloster and his team were fired up in finding the young boy.
Kloster was confident that Austin would survive. “He’s young; he’s in shape,” Kloster said. He knew that the chances of survival were not that low.
“There’s all kinds of water out there,” the Park Ranger added. But Austin has been missing for 11 days, is it possible that it had already been too late?
One last attempt
Kloster had worked as a Chief Ranger for around two decades now, but this is the longest search and rescue mission that he had worked on. They knew that if they let more days pass by, the chances of Austin surviving in the vast forest were getting slimmer.
Kloster sent out his team in hopes of finding Austin again for one last time. Will they make it?
Fortunately, Austin was a survivor. He didn’t give up that easy. He knew that if he let his fear get to him, he wouldn’t be able to survive. Austin tried to remain calm and turned all the theories he learned about survival into practice.
But surviving in the wilderness alone wasn’t an easy task. But Austin knew what he had to do first, he decided to seek higher ground.
Climbing a mountain was no joke and Austin was exhausted. He desperately tried to get signal despite being aware that the chances are slim. Unfortunately, he was unable to get a signal. But being the outdoor enthusiast that he is, Austin had other plans as well.
Austin climbed down the ridge and followed a creek. He knew that this would lead to drinkable water. But little did Austin know, this path would lead him further down the wilderness. With his hunger starting to get the best of him, and his body growing tired, he was worried that he might be unable to survive.
The 11th day
Austin was starting to lose hope until he spotted some kayaks and a boat across the river. “Luckily I saw a boat, a guy and his daughter,” Austin shared in an interview. Austin waved at the people on the boat and fortunately, they were able to see him.
Finally, Austin was able to go back home safely to his family after trying to survive in the wilderness for 11 days.