In May 2019 Amanda Eller set off on an exciting 3-mile hike on the island of Maui, Hawaii. Little did she know, however, that this adventure through a tropical paradise would turn into a nightmare. According to Eller’s friends and family, in fact, the woman ended up lost and stranded, fighting for her own survival. But now the formerly missing hiker has come clean about what really happened out in the wilderness.
So what went down? Well, Eller’s abrupt absence actually instigated a huge search operation. Her boyfriend, Ben Konkol, had initially reported her missing when she failed to return home for dinner. The story then spread as the national media caught wind of proceedings. But as time passed, it seemed increasingly less likely that rescuers would find the vanished hiker in time.
Friends and the authorities alike had no clues to exactly where Eller could be, after all. The site of her disappearance indicated the surrounding Hawaiian forest as her most likely location, though. So, in an effort to find the Maui woman, Eller’s family set up a GoFundMe campaign to aid their cause. Search helicopters also took to the skies to find her.
And finally, after over two weeks, search parties discovered Eller’s whereabouts and learned what had happened to her. But what was the truth behind the hiker’s disappearance – and where did she end up? The tale is actually more complicated than it might first appear. So it’s worth tracking back to the start, to when Eller first vanished, and examining how events consequently transpired.
As mentioned, Ben Konkol, Eller’s boyfriend, first became concerned for his significant other when she missed their evening meal unannounced. Naturally, then, this raised some warning flags, and as a result Konkol feared for her well-being. So he reported his girlfriend missing the very next day – prompting the authorities to search for her last known location.
And after pouring through surveillance footage, investigators built up a picture of Eller’s actions on the day that she disappeared. Their work seemingly showed how the young woman had stopped at Haiku Market to buy presents for Mother’s Day. Eller had also sent the gifts from the nearby Haiku post office. Then other cameras picked up her journey.
It seemed therefore that Eller then left her car at the Makawao Forest Reserve parking lot. The hiker later took the vehicle to the reserve’s Kahakapao Trail, where it was photographed by another hiker. Yet the car was still parked there a day later when Konkol reported Eller missing.
So the evidence indicated that the Kahakapao Trail was the young woman’s last recorded sighting. But what could have caused her to stop there, and why? Investigators spotted something in the post office footage of Eller that seemed to hold a clue. To be more precise, the detectives noticed that Eller had been wearing flip flops.
And it was telling that Eller had subsequently left those flip flops in her car before she disappeared. You see, the hiker works as a yoga instructor and a doctor of physical therapy – so she’s an active woman. And Eller likes to go running, which of course would be impractical in flip flops.
Yet when investigators searched Eller’s car, they found her running sneakers missing – indicating that she’d likely changed footwear. The inspection also turned up the missing woman’s smartphone, further complicating matters. In addition, Eller’s water bottle was in the car. But perhaps this was not so unusual: a family Facebook post revealed that Eller often left items behind.
One theory shared on a Facebook page designed to find Eller suggested that she’d possibly gone for a swim and had hidden her phone somewhere. The idea was a possible lead too. After all, Eller seemingly wore an item of clothing in the surveillance footage that may have been suitable for swimming.
Of course, investigators also considered other reasons that could have led to Eller’s disappearance. And though they couldn’t rule out abduction or foul play, there was no evidence to support those theories. Captured footage didn’t reveal any other person in the area interacting with the missing woman, either, making that situation even more unlikely.
With all signs pointing to Eller entering the Makawao Forest Reserve, then, that’s where search parties focused their efforts. And as the missing woman’s story spread, the number of resources available to find her increased exponentially. That’s because Eller’s absence wasn’t just reaching people via word of mouth; it was also being spread by internet posts and social media.
Support for the Eller family subsequently exploded – and even people who couldn’t physically join the search provided financial backing. This came through the aforementioned GoFundMe page, which was dedicated to making the search for Eller more effective. It also allowed her family and friends to offer a $50,000 reward for information on her whereabouts.
And while no one claimed that reward, volunteers and the authorities kept searching for Eller. Regular updates on the Facebook page dedicated to the lost woman kept people updated on her progress too. Then, with the news reaching the national media, the public learned of Eller’s plight.
Two weeks passed. Professionals and volunteers spanning many different disciplines were still looking for Eller. Search teams, rappellers, scuba divers, sniffer dogs and drone pilots joined the Maui Police Department to scour the forest. But despite this, according to The Guardian, Amanda’s father, John, explained that the family had started to think that they’d never see Eller again.
“We were beginning to lose hope,” John Eller said in May 2019, the newspaper reported. Her mother, Julia, confirmed as much with CBS News that same month. She said, “I felt in my heart that my daughter was alive, and I could not give up hope – but I am human, and I had those moments of despair. It was hard going out there every day.”
Then, on day 17 of the search, Eller’s family received some incredible news: rescuers had found Eller in the forest alive. According to The Guardian, John said, “When I got the call at first I thought they were joking, I almost just couldn’t believe it, the terrain here is unbelievable.”
A privately hired helicopter manned by Chris Berquist, Troy Helmer and Javier Cantellops made the initial sighting. The trio spotted a barefoot and disheveled Eller signalling to them from the ground, 150 feet below, in a thick forest surrounded by hazardous terrain. And the crew seemingly just knew that the tired figure below them was the missing woman.
Chris Berquist, who originally worked as an arborist, had already gone all-out in his search for Eller. He dedicated so much of his time to looking for her, in fact, that he lost his job as a result. Yet Berquist still continued to volunteer – and was understandably elated to see Eller waving from the ground.
In fact, even though Eller was a stranger to Berquist, he and the team had examined her appearance for several days during the search. He told Maui Now, “I’ve never met her before, but there was no mistaking that’s who it was.” And of course, finding the missing woman alive must have been equally as exhilarating for all the rescuers.
Fortunately, you see, the helicopter crew managed to land safely on a flat piece of land and airlift Eller out of the forest. The rescued woman then went to Maui Memorial Medical Center to recover from her ordeal. But what had happened to Eller, and how did she manage to survive out in the wild for 17 days?
Eller later revealed her story from the beginning to the media – starting with when she left her car in the reserve’s parking lot. And it turned out that speculations about her initial intentions were quite accurate. She did indeed go out for a hike, and she only meant to walk for three miles. That’s why, she said, she left her phone and water bottle behind.
However, the yoga instructor stopped on her journey to relax and meditate. And as a result, Eller became confused and decided to continue walking in one direction in an effort to return to her car. But this decision just led her further into the dense forest.
“I spent a couple of hours within that same part of the forest trying to find my way back to my car,” Eller describes in a Facebook video post from May 2019. And though she realized too late that it was the wrong direction, the hiker resigned herself to pressing forward regardless.
As the hours passed, then, Eller went in search of water and shelter for the night. In a press conference uploaded to YouTube by NBC News in May, Eller attributed her early success to the local wildlife. To be more specific, the lost hiker said she slept in a wild boar’s den when night time came.
“So there’s boars everywhere through there,” Eller tells journalists in the video. “And that’s their home – I’m in their home – so I was very respectful of that.” In addition, the woman credits her spirituality for warning her of danger and aiding her survival.
“I’m guided, so there were times when I would see a very nice-looking boar den where I’m like, ‘That might keep me warm.’ And I got a message like, ‘Don’t go in there,’” Eller says in the video. It was important to find shelter at night, though, since the forest temperatures drop to around 60 degrees.
Eller then spent the humid days in the forest tracing a stream, from which she also drank water. For food, according to news sources, the Maui woman’s diet mostly consisted of wild strawberry guavas.
Few opportunities for meat arose on Eller’s travels, of course. Yet she did manage to snag a pair of moths that pitched on her a few days into the ordeal. But one thing the hiker really struggled with was the temperamental weather – for which she was ill-prepared.
Naturally, when the rain came it made survival conditions even worse. Not only did downpours muddy Eller’s supply of potential drinking water, but they also added to the hazardous terrain. Then on day three, the lost hiker found out just how dangerous the forest could be.
While rescue teams combed the forest for Eller, she lost her footing and took a 20-foot tumble. She tore her knee cartilage and broke her leg in the fall, too, further hampering her mobility. Then as if to add insult to injury, the rain fell on day four, resulting in a flood.
Eller lost her shoes to the deluge, and as a consequence had to continue her journey without protective footwear. Yet throughout the challenges the hiker faced, the focus at the forefront of her mind was always survival. According to CBS News, Eller said after her rescue in May 2019, “It came down to life and death, and I had to choose. I chose life.”
When Eller’s saviors finally hacked their way through the forest to her, then, she was “slightly injured,” according to the Facebook account dedicated to finding the hiker. However, she was alive, and after a short recovery period Eller opened up about her experience. Yet while people were overjoyed that she was safe, subsequent interviews with the yoga instructor led to some misunderstandings.
In her press conference video uploaded to YouTube, Eller recounts how her strong sense of internal guidance led her into the forest. The yoga instructor says, “That sense of guidance is what led me on my journey. I believe there’s a bigger purpose to my story. It’s not just a girl who got lost in the woods, it’s this. It’s everything happening right now.”
Eller also describes her experience as “a significant spiritual journey” in the clip, leading some people online to believe that she wandered off-trail intentionally. Some even claimed that she was under the influence of drugs. As a result, Eller later felt like she should issue a public apology, so she posted a video on Facebook at the end of May 2019 explaining herself in more detail.
“There were not any drugs taken at all, I was not under the influence of anything,” Eller says in the video. “That day, I never intended to go on any kind of spiritual journey, spiritual experience. It was simply just a hike through the woods. And I had every intention that day to make it back to my car quickly.”
In addition to her other statements, Eller confesses in the clip that she ventured into the forest unprepared. On the subject of getting lost, she says, “[If I’d] had my cellphone with me, that would not have been the case. So that was my irresponsibility, and for that I apologize.”
Furthermore, Eller wanted to clarify how much she appreciated the community’s efforts to find her. She continues, “It was never my intention through any of this to put anybody in harm’s way [or] to create a rescue effort out of my being lost in the woods. I just want to apologize for any rescue efforts that people feel were unnecessary.”
“I also want to thank every single person that showed up, boots on the ground, to try and help in finding me,” Eller adds in the video. “Thousands of people were praying for me. I am in such awe and gratitude of all of the people that helped me find my way back to my family.”