Thirty-five-year-old Amanda Eller decided to take a hiking trip in the Hawaiian forest when the unthinkable happened.
She ended up lost in the forest for more than two weeks. For 17 days and 16 nights, search and rescue parties were set up in hopes to find her alive and well. She was believed to be moving farther and faster than where the search parties were looking.
She was found injured but responsive, and her and the team that found her tell their story.
Eller is a yoga teacher who left on May 8 to go for a hike in the woods when she became disoriented. Searchers found her SUV when she was reported missing with her phone and wallet inside the vehicle at the Maui Makawao Forest Reserve.
Chris Berquist, one of the searchers who found Eller, told CNN, “We were just sort of swinging for the fence one last time and checking everything out.”
Javier Cantellops, a former Army Ranger added, “As the sun was setting on Friday, 17 days after Eller had walked into the woods for a short hike we (Berquist, Cantellops and Troy Helmer) flew in a helicopter over waterfalls and swimming holes, keeping our eyes down onto the treacherous terrain.”
Berquist continued the story, “We are coming around the bend, and we saw her. We were so excited the pilot had to tell us to calm down because the helicopter was shaking.”
When the rescuers found Eller, she had lost 15 pounds, no shoes, severe sunburns, abrasions, and could barely walk due to a leg fracture.
She lived off of water from the river, wild fruits, and the will power to live. Several helicopters had flown around the area had not seen her up until that moment.
Berquist concluded the CNN interview with these words, “What a blessing on how organically this rescue came together. The right people stuck together like velcro. Nobody ever quit.”
Eller was found by a creek bed and was airlifted to safety Friday. She was taken to a nearby hospital in Maui and was treated for her injuries and evaluated for any other damages she may have received.
Eller told everyone at a gathering, “I’m just the girl that got lost in the woods. You guys like showed up hard. This is like true aloha.”
She thanked everyone for “showing up with so much frickin’ heart and so much passion. You guys are the heroes. I am not the hero, I am just the girl sitting here healing my ankles.”
Reports from Sarah Haynes stated, “She’s going through a very grueling process on her legs, where they need to remove the tops of the wounds, and it’s very painful, much like a burn victim.”
Eller had walked out of the hospital but is now in a wheelchair due to the fracture and painful skin graphs from the sunburns.
Eller recently posted a video on Facebook where she said, “There were times of total fear and loss and wanting to give up. It did come down to life and death, and I had to choose. I chose life. I wasn’t going to take the easy way out. I heard this voice that said, ‘If you want to live, keep going.'”
Two of the three searchers on the chopper had military backgrounds. Javier Cantellops did one tour in Iraq and two tours in Afghanistan.
He told CNN about his training and how it helped him in this search, “It happens to be that the topography of the forest where we found her is just like where we trained in Georgia. The slopes, the terrain, the plant life, very similar. It’s like a switch got flipped on in my head and I said ‘I am going to lean on this to find her.'”
He also added he is a spearfishing instructor and a diving instructor and has “really good eyesight when I’m hunting fish. I leaned on it in the search.”
Chris Berquist used his survival training from the military and stated, “What I learned growing up in the military community is the language of efficiency. I feel like every small problem that came up during the search was a small problem I faced before like reading maps or making sure everybody had everything, equipment that they needed before they went out searching.”
Troy Helmer was the most familiar with the area, and all three men are glad the story has a happy ending with Eller expected to fully recover.