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Hawaii hiker lost for 17 days shares extraordinary tale of survival

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Anna Brech
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Amanda Eller with her rescuers in Hawaii

A yoga teacher who was lost in the wilderness forest of Hawaii for over two weeks has revealed how gut instinct got her through the ordeal

Of all the weapons that can help us in life, resilience is one of the most potent.

It’s a quality that yoga teacher Amanda Eller demonstrated in very literal terms recently, after she survived 17 days alone in Hawaii’s Makawao Forest Reserve.

The 35-year-old says she relied on gut instinct to see her through “the toughest days of my life”, after becoming lost during a routine walk in Maui’s secluded upcountry on May 8.

The hiker ended up straying right off the mainstream trails in the popular forest reserve.

Amanda Eller speaks to her parents after being rescued
Amanda speaks to her parents, moments after being found

“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, speaking from a hospital bed just hours after being rescued from her harrowing ordeal. “I chose life.”

“I heard this voice that said: ‘If you want to live, keep going,’” Eller added, in an interview with the New York Times

“And as soon as I would doubt my intuition and try to go another way than where it was telling me, something would stop me, a branch would fall on me, I’d stub my toe or I’d trip. So I was like: ‘OK, there is only one way to go.’”

Over the course of more than two weeks in the wilderness, Eller lived on berries, guavas and water from nearby falls. She suffered some bruising to her feet and ankles, but used her background in physical therapy to help heal herself.

Being airlifted to rescue
Being airlifted to safety

Local search and rescue services had previously taken the difficult decision to call off the search for Eller, so her family and friends hired a private helicopter paid for by crowdfunding donations.

On day 17, pilots spotted her in a ravine a few miles above the island’s Twin Falls, and she flagged the helicopter down.

“I looked up and they were right on top of me,” she said. “I was like, ‘Oh my God,’ and I just broke down and started bawling.”

One of Eller’s rescuers, Chris Berquist, said she was in remarkably good condition considering what she had been through.

“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.

“She was very alert, she knew her father’s phone number, she knew who she was, where she was, knew exactly how long she had been out there — very surprised to see us,” he added. “I’ve never felt something quite that overpowering.”

Amanda Eller surrounded by friends and family after her rescue
The yoga teacher is surrounded by loved ones after her rescue

Eller was even able to pose for a photo with her rescue team before she was evacuated, and later thanked those who searched tirelessly for her in an emotional Facebook video

Her father John paid tribute to his daughter’s survival skills. “She was smart, she was strong, she was prepared,” he said.  

“I’m just so incredibly grateful to have my girl home,” added her mum, Julia Eller. “I never gave up hope for a minute.”

Images: AFP PHOTO, Javier Cantellops, facebook.com/AmandaEllersMissing/

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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for stylist.co.uk. Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.