'I chose life' when lost in the Hawaiian forest | Free Press from USA

‘I chose life’ when lost in the Hawaiian forest

'I chose life' when lost in the Hawaiian forest

“It’s time to celebrate!”

Hundreds of volunteers who aided the grim search and sensational rescue of Amanda Eller will celebrate Monday at a barbecue bash promoted by the “Findamanda” Facebook page.

The party reflects the relief and joy being expressed by friends and family of Eller, a physical therapist and yoga instructor who walked into a Hawaiian forest on May 8 and was not seen again for more than two weeks. 

Eller, 35, survived on wild fruit, water, grit and determination. On Friday, searchers in a helicopter spotted her near a creek bed, and she was airlifted to safety about two hours later. Eller suffered a leg fracture and abrasions, was sunburned and hungry but was otherwise in good shape, her family said.

Eller, from her hospital bed, thanked the hundreds of volunteers who conducted exhaustive searches. She said her 17 days in Maui’s Makawao Forest Reserve were the most difficult of her life.

“There were times of total fear and loss and wanting to give up,” she said. “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.”

Eller’s mother, Julia, said her daughter hiked into the woods, stopped to meditate, then couldn’t find her way back to her car. Julia Eller said her daughter kept walking, surviving by drinking from the creek and eating wild raspberries and other fruits. Amanda lost about 15 pounds, her mother said.

Amanda’s SUV was found in the Makawao parking lot, her wallet and phone inside.

Julia Eller said Amanda waved at helicopters that occasionally flew overhead, but that the canopy was apparently too thick for searchers to see her. Amanda finally hiked to a waterfall, encountering a 20-foot cliff. She could go no further. And the search for food was growing more difficult.

Julia Eller said she never gave up hope her daughter would be found.

“She’s a trouper, a real warrior,” Julia Eller said. “And I had no doubt that if anybody could make it through it, it was her.”

Julia Eller’s hopes became reality when Javier Cantellops, Chris Berquist and Troy Helmer spotted Amanda late Friday from a helicopter.

Cantellops is a former Army Ranger who operates “Masters of Adventure,” which leads diving, spearfishing and other outings in the Maui area. He said he, Berquist and Helmer were surveying terrain for possible locations to enter the woods on foot when they saw her.

“It was like a movie, man,” he told a new conference Saturday. “Out of nowhere, we look and we did a double take. Out of the woods she comes. It’s an incredibly happy ending.” 

Cantellops said the helicopter dropped him and another searcher off more than 300 yards from Amanda, and the duo “broke brush all the way” to reach her.

As they approached her, “I said ‘Do you recognize this voice? And she said “Javier?!”

“It’s been a surreal moment,” Cantellops said of the hours since the rescue. “I had to check my phone today to make sure it all really happened.”

Eller said her daughter was fearful that searchers might have given up. But the leaders of the search never wavered, she said. Dr. Zora Bulatovic, who treated Amanda, said she looks “amazing” and should recover fully.

“It’s just a miracle that our daughter has come home to us,” Eller said. “Miracles do happen.”

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