Search efforts to continue for missing Buena Vista man

Police expanding search for 30-year-old Chad Austin

By Jeff Williamson - Digital Content Manager

BUENA VISTA, Va. - The Buena Vista Police Department will expand its search efforts Saturday for a missing 30-year-old who was last seen Memorial Day. 

Saturday's extensive search for Chad Austin will take place near the Panther Falls area along Route 60 in Amherst County, according to the Buena Vista Police Department. 

Authorities say due to the difficult, and in many places dangerous, terrain of the concentrated search area, only law enforcement and specially-trained search and rescue teams are involved in Saturday's search efforts. 

Austin was last seen by campers in the Panther Falls area, east of the Blue Ridge Parkway. He was last seen wearing a gray tank top with long shorts, possible beige in color.

He is 6 feet tall, weighs 150-170 pounds, and has brown hair and brown eyes.

Assisting police in the new search are Virginia State Police and the members of the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.

Austin was reported missing after his car was found around 12:30 p.m. Tuesday in Amherst County, abandoned about 2 miles down the turnoff for Panther Falls Road, according to state police.

His dog named Gunner was locked inside the car. 

“This is extremely unusual for Chad to have gone this long without communicating with his family or close friends,” said Buena Vista Police Chief Richard Hartman. “It’s also very out-of-character for Chad to have left Gunner behind and put at risk by being left inside a locked vehicle. Chad’s family says the two have been inseparable since Chad got him as a puppy and would never willingly let any harm come of him or to any animal, for that matter.”

A search of the immediate area resulted in several keys and other personal items belonging to Austin being found about a half mile from the abandoned car.

“Chad was well-known among the hiking community in this region and along the Appalachian Trail for his charitable goodwill, as he would often help with rides and food, and help folks find places to stay,” said Chief Hartman. “We are asking anyone who may recall seeing Chad, his car or even his dog, Gunner, at any time over the Memorial Day weekend to please contact us. No detail is too minor as it may be the very information we need to bring him safely home to his family.”

Buena Vista police are asking that anyone who may have been passing through the Panther Falls area during Memorial Day weekend and may recall seeing Austin or his silver 2006 Hyundai Tiburon to call them at 540-261-6171.

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