Amanda Eller, the 35-year-old yoga instructor and physical therapist who went missing on a hike in a Maui forest on May 8, ate plants and berries and drank from the base of waterfalls to survive, her rescuers say.
Hours after rescuers in a helicopter plucked Eller from a ravine, she said that she had to make the choice to stay alive while lost for 16 days in the forest.
“There were times of total fear and loss and wanting to give up, and it did come down to life and death, and I had to choose,” Eller said from her hospital bed on Saturday. “I chose life.”
Eller also thanked the volunteers who tirelessly searched for her, the Maui community, and those who donated to help fund the search.
“People that know me, that don't know me, just under the idea of helping one person make it out of the woods alive just warms my heart," she said in a video posted on the Facebook page “Find Amanda.”
Chris Berquist, a friend who was fired from a part-time job for not returning to work until he found Eller, told Maui Now that she was “alive and well” and, despite cuts to her legs and severe sun exposure, was “walking and healthy.”
“We found her in a stream bed, she was waving up at us while we were in the helicopter, and we got her out nice and safe,” Berquist told ABC News Radio. “She was not injured. She has a little bit of exposure from the sun, a little bit of sunburn. She lost her shoes a few days in. But no injuries."
She was last seen buying a Mother’s Day present on the surveillance video of a local shop on May 8. Eller’s family reported her missing when she did not answer calls after going hiking. Her white SUV was found in the Makawao Forest Reserve parking lot with her cellphone and wallet inside, prompting fears that she might have been abducted.
Her friends and family offered a $50,000 reward for anyone who could provide information about her disappearance.
More than 60 volunteers worked tirelessly to comb the area where she was thought to have hiked, but her family now said she slipped into a deep ravine between two waterfalls, slightly twisting her leg, and could not climb out. Rescuers had to be air-lifted in and out of the ravine to carry out the rescue.
Eller’s father John told a local news channel that he had been “bawling like a baby” since hearing the news. He said that she was “mentally 100%” but that she had skin damage to her feet and legs from sun exposure.
Another friend involved in her rescue, Javier Cantellops, a former Special Operations Airborne Ranger with the 3rd Ranger Battalion 75th Ranger Regiment, told a local news station what it was like when they spotted her:
“We all look to our right… and out of the woodwork, man, you see Amanda Eller, my friend, coming out, waving her hands,” he said. “It was unbelievable, dude.”
Eller’s mother Julia said she had never given up hope on finding her daughter alive. “I felt in my heart she was alive,” she told KHON2. “I never gave up hope for a minute. Even though at times I would have those moments of despair, I stayed strong for her because I knew we would find her if we just stayed with the program, stayed persistent and that we would eventually find her.”