AMHERST COUNTY, Va. (WDBJ) - The search was back on for a Buena Vista man who has been missing since Memorial Day. You may remember Chad Austin's dog and car were found in the Panther Falls area of Amherst County. That was nearly three weeks ago. Saturday, a new search was launched, and it is backed by a lot more resources. The extensive operation included eight search and rescue teams.
This is the third organized search for him but the second involving officials. Buena Vista Police are leading up search efforts and they say they've been working for weeks to plan the search.
Nearly 80 public safety and search and rescue personnel spent Saturday conducting an extensive search for Austin's whereabouts.
"It's been a difficult, very agonizing couple weeks for us," Ellen Austin, Chad's mother, said.
She came out and stood by the officers to show her support. "There's just no way we can thank them all, it's just overwhelming to know that they're still looking," she said.
Looking for Austin who went missing in the Panther Falls area--his car was found there with his dog, named Gunner, inside, still alive.
Saturday, officials were back to the woods, searching for any trace of Austin. They set up at the Humphry's Gap Parking Lot off of the Blue Ridge Parkway, to strategize and prepare for tough conditions ahead.
"It's immensely challenging, I don't know if you're familiar with the area that we're looking in, but there's cliffs, there's narrow roads, there's paths, there's weeds, there's snakes, there's other animals out there that can cause a problem for the searchers, and just trying to walk up and down the steep mountain is challenging in itself," Keith Hartman, Chief of Police for Buena Vista, said.
Their goal: to bring Austin home safe and alive.
"We enlisted the help of the state police, and their experts on missing persons, and it took a little while to get the plan together to get all these assets together to come and do this, we have almost 100 people out here today searching the woods for Chad," Hartman said.
It's a search that Austin's mom and family pray will lead to good news.
"We just believe and pray that he's hopefully alive somewhere, and if he can just reach out to us in any way possible, if he's able to, and if not, then our prayers are today that hopefully they can find him," Austin's mother said.
Officials say during the course of the investigation, the Buena Vista Police Department received 20 leads and is still encouraging the public to contact them with further information about Austin's whereabouts.