By Audrey McAvoy / Associated Press
HONOLULU — A Hawaii woman said Tuesday she fell to the ground and started bawling when a rescue helicopter spotted her in a forest where she had survived for two weeks by eating plants and drinking stream water.
Amanda Eller said crews in other helicopters failed to see her earlier in her ordeal.
“I knew in the grand scheme of things, I’m on this tiny piece of rock on the top of a waterfall, and how the heck are they going to find me?” Eller said at a news conference livestreamed from Maui. “It was a miracle.”
The same group of volunteers who found her on Friday were helping search another forest for a Maui man, Noah Mina, who has been missing since May 20.
Eller had set out May 8 for a 3-mile hike in Makawao Forest Reserve. She didn’t take a cellphone and didn’t have a compass.
The physical therapist said her heart was telling her which way to turn. But when she tried to go back the way she came, that path didn’t lead to her car.
Eller said she’s normally an “overpreparer” and has food, water, sunscreen and a hat with her.
“Just that day I did not,” she said, conceding she should have taken a cellphone.
Her darkest moment came on her 14th day in the forest when helicopters passed over and failed to see her yet again.
“You lose hope,” Eller said. “Your hope meter starts to decline a little bit. And as the sun starts to go down you think, ‘OK. Another night alone, how am I going to stay warm, how am I going to stay alive?’”
Still, she said she never felt alone or fearful. She thought of her family and chose to live.
She told herself: “You can sit on that rock and you can die. You can say mercy and feel pitiful for yourself and you can play victim. Or you can start walking down that waterfall and choose life.”
Eller said a prayer for Mina, who went missing on a ridge trail near Wailuku. Eller said the area was “gnarly” and scarier than the spot where she was. She called the search for her “training” for the latest effort.
“I send all of my love and all of my support to his family and friends and his search teams,” she said.
Mina’s father, Vincent Mina, told The Maui News that first responders found his son’s flip flops about 2,500 feet above sea level. They located footprints but weren’t sure if they were Mina’s.
Vincent Mina said Chris Berquist and Javier Cantellops, the arborist and Army Ranger who led the two-week search for Eller, met with Mina’s family and were taken by helicopter Sunday to the area where he was last seen.
Eller said she’s eager to get back to work and take care of her physical therapy patients. She said she has some ankle wounds and her knee hurts, but expects to be off crutches in about a month.
“I’m so grateful to be alive. I wake up in the morning and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I had a warm bed that I got to sleep in. And my body got to rest and to heal. My ankles are getting stronger.’ Grateful for every breath. Grateful for everything. And I hope I never lose that,” Eller said.