Amanda Eller, the 35-year-old Maui hiker who survived in the jungle for 17 days before her miraculous rescue last week, said she started to lose hope after seeing 20 helicopters pass by without seeing her.
“Standing on that rock, I felt invisible,” she told reporters at a Tuesday press conference, adding that she wrote S.O.S. on rocks and spread out her clothing to help rescuers find her.
“You lose hope,” Eller added. “As the sun starts to go down you’re like, ‘Another night alone. How am I gonna stay warm? How am I gonna stay alive?’”
Ultimately, she said it was willpower, meditation, and her “intuition” that sustained her throughout the harrowing ordeal.
“I never felt alone, and I never felt fearful. It was an opportunity to overcome fear of everything,” she said. “At some point halfway into the days I was there, I came to a place of acceptance. There’s a reason I have to stay alive.”
Eller’s family reported her missing when she didn’t answer her phone after going on a hike on May 8. Her white SUV was found in the Makawao Forest Reserve parking lot with her cellphone and wallet inside.
She told reporters that she just meant to go on a “little jog,” and left her GPS-equipped phone behind because she thought it wasn’t necessary. “I should have had a cellphone with me,” Ellis, who described herself as usually being an “over-preparer,” said. “There’s a reason we carry them all the time.”
“Maui is a huge jungle. It’s like a needle in a haystack out there,” she added.
In addition to eating plants and drinking from waterfalls, Eller said she would sometimes find a “nice-looking boar den” to stay in and keep her warm. She said the boars were “everywhere” she wandered, and she followed their paths to find other dens.
Eller also said that a key part of her survival was maintaining her mental strength. She said she told herself that being lost was a “part of [her] path” and her “journey” that she needed to embrace. To mentally sustain herself, she said she sat under a tree and meditated.
After hiking through the brush, Eller said she eventually reached a spot between two waterfalls and felt stuck—but said she knew she should stay there to be rescued. One day later, a helicopter pilot that had been hired by her family spotted her, and a group of volunteers picked her up from the deep ravine.
The Maui Fire Department had suspended its search for Eller after several days, and she told reporters that she ultimately felt “more heart” from the volunteers that tirelessly searched and eventually found her.
“What I ask is that this be taken more seriously, that missing people be taken more seriously,” she said. “On a state level, we are able to expand those policies so that we know that our tribe is taken care of.”
Eller also said she knows the family of another missing hiker, Noah Mina, who hasn’t been heard from since he set off to hike the Kapilau Ridge Trail in the West Maui Forest Reserve in Wailuku on May 20. The same rescue team that found Eller has also been searching for Mina.
“Maui is small, I know they’re amazing people. My heart reaches out to his family and him,” she said, before sending out a prayer for Mina. “I hope this is taken more seriously than my search… Let’s show up for Noah.”
Now safe with her family, Eller said she was looking forward to helping her physical-therapy patients heal and “get back to [her] life.”
“I’m so grateful to be alive,” she said. “Grateful for every breath, grateful for everything.”