A jogger who spent 17 days lost and injured in a dense jungle on the Hawaiian island of Maui — where she survived by eating wild fruits and even a few moths she was able to catch — has been rescued.
Amanda Eller, 35, a yoga instructor and physical therapist, was spotted Friday by a helicopter crew that had been searching for her for days.
“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 told ABC from her hospital bed. “I chose life.”
After last being seen on May 8, Eller’s white Toyota RAV4 had been found at a trailhead with the key hidden under the driver’s side front tire and her phone and wallet left inside.
Her mother Julia Eller said that after her daughter had jogged three or four miles on the trail, she laid down on a log to rest, and when she got up, was completely disoriented.
She had intended to go on a three-mile run but somehow got turned around.
Eller told her father she was able to walk for the first five to eight days but at some point, she fell into a ravine, which was about seven miles from where she left her car.
Besides breaking her leg, she had bruised both ankles and suffered severe sunburn.
“Just like we’ve been saying — you get turned around in these woods,” Javier Cantellops said.
“You get lost, you’re gone,” he said.
“It was straight out of a movie.”
Barefoot and suffering a broken leg, Eller was spotted after she heard the chopper and frantically waved to the crew.
“We’ve been flying almost two hours, which is our fuel limit. We were on our way back, flying over the streams, and there she was, waving her arms at us from down below,” Chris Berquist, who led the air search, told reporters.
“There was no mistake it was her. Even from 200 feet, we knew.”
Cantellops, a former Airborne Ranger who was also in the aircraft, recalled the emotional moment the crew spotted Eller down below.
“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. And, of course, we all lose it.”
He had to set the helicopter down about 300 yards away from the ravine she was lying in.
Then he, Berquist and a hunter named Troy Helmers crawled into the ravine to reach Eller, whose feet had become raw and blistered after she lost her shoes.
She lost about 15 pounds, Cantellops said.
He credited Eller’s ability to survive to her resourcefulness and her yoga and therapy careers.
“Those two things together are tied with her knowledge of the local vegetation there and the plenty of water, our beautiful tropical climate,” he told reporters, adding that he knew all along “she can make it.”
After hearing Eller was safe, her mother told the searchers, “All things are possible,” The Maui News reported.
About a half-hour earlier, Eller’s dad, John, shared the happy news with volunteer searchers — then invited them to a celebration.
“There was lots of screaming,” searcher Jamie-Sue West told reporters. “I felt relief, amazement. It was the outcome we hoped for.”
Her mom told the Honolulu-based KHON-TV station that her daughter’s leg fracture would require additional treatment.
At one point, 1,000 people were actively searching for her — an outpouring of support that Eller said she found profoundly touching.
“Seeing the way that the community of Maui came together … just under the idea of helping one person make it out of the woods alive, just warms my heart,” she said in a Facebook video recorded from her hospital bed.
“And just seeing the power of prayer and the power of love when everybody combines their efforts, is incredible,” she added.
“It could move mountains.”
Julia Eller told The Maui News that finding her daughter alive “is just the greatest news I’ve ever gotten in my whole life — that my daughter has not only been found, but that she’s in reasonably good condition for what she’s been through.”
“She’s a survivor,” the mother added, “and I knew that, and she’s proved that now.”
Her dad, John, said, “It looks like she lost a little weight, got a really good suntan.
“It was a rough journey. It was her mental strength and fortitude, her belief in herself that kept her at it.”
When the news got out that she had been rescued, cheers and cries went up at the base camp where up to 150 volunteers gathered each day to search the difficult, steep terrain.
Her boyfriend, Ben Konkol, was the last person to see her.
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