• 'I chose life': Hiker with ties to NC speaks about surviving 17 days in wild

    By: ABC News

    Updated:

    MAUI - Missing hiker Amanda Eller has been found alive.

    Eller, 35, who is a physical therapist who moonlights as a yoga teacher, drove to Makawao in Maui to hike the Kahakapao Trail on her day off. Eller is a regular hiker and avid outdoorswoman.

    Eyewitness News confirmed the news with Eller's aunt, Lynn Eller Ansley, by phone Friday night. Ansley is one of several relatives who live in the Tar Heel State.

    "The family is obviously overjoyed," she said. "It's an absolute miracle."

    Eller was reported missing on May 9.

    Amanda Eller (Credit: Sarah Haynes, special to ABC News)
    Amanda Eller (Credit: Sarah Haynes, special to ABC News)

    (Amanda Eller)

    Family members said in a Facebook message they're not sure how she survived. Her family lives in Wilmington.

    Her rescuers, who were searching from the air, described the moment they discovered Eller.

    "We found Amanda alive and well,” rescuer Chris Berquist said. “We found her in a stream bed. She was waving up at us while we were in the helicopter, and we got her out nice and safe."

    "A lot of that area is on the edge of the rainforest, so it gets wet and cold at night,” rescuer Greg Hoxsie said. “So, it would take a strong person like her to survive that."

    He said the area is dense rainforest.

    "From what I understand, she's strong, mentally, physically, spiritually, all of that,” Hoxsie said.

    Her family was in Maui and had begged Hawaii's governor to launch the National Guard to search for Eller after she mysteriously disappeared during a routine hike. Firefighters ended their search after 72 hours.

    Eller, found alive after being missing for 17 days in a Hawaii reserve, went on social media to thank the people who never gave up searching for her.

    [ALSO READ: Affidavit reveals disturbing details of Appalachian Trail machete attack]

    In a video posted to Facebook, Eller, 35, spoke from her hospital bed in Maui with her boyfriend, Ben Konkol, at her side, KHNL reported.

    “The last 17 days of my life have been the toughest days of my life," Eller said. "It’s been a really significant spiritual journey that I was guided on, and 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, and I chose life. I wasn’t going to take the easy way out.”

    Amanda Eller smiles with Javier Cantellops, left, Troy Helmer and Chris Berquist after she was found after going missing for more than two weeks in a Hawaii reserve.
    Amanda Eller smiles with Javier Cantellops, left, Troy Helmer and Chris Berquist after she was found after going missing for more than two weeks in a Hawaii reserve.

    (Eller and her rescuers)

    On Facebook, Amanda Eller thanked her rescuers and local residents who helped in the search.

    "Just seeing the community of Maui come together — people who know me, people who don't know me all came together. Just under the idea of seeing one person make it out of the woods alive. It warms my heart," she said.

    (Eller's Toyota RAV4)

    Surveillance footage released after she vanished showed Eller, in workout gear, going to the Haiku Post Office and store that morning, mailing a Mother's Day package and buying water and energy bars.

    The Maui Fire Department found Eller's white Toyota RAV4, with her keys and cellphone inside. Friends said it was not uncommon for her to hike or run the trail without her phone.

    "We don't know her to have any depression; we don't know any reason that she would disappear on her own," her friend Sarah Haynes, who is leading the search effort and created a Facebook page to provide updates, told Honolulu ABC affiliate KITV. "She and her boyfriend are quite close; they're a very happy loving couple."

    Search teams talked with Eller's parents about what may have happened to their daughter.

    “The speculation is that she deviated off the trail and probably slipped and fell down a ravine of some type,” her father, John Eller, said. “She is probably injured and weak at this point, making it very difficult.”

    Amanda’s parents are from Southport, North Carolina.

    [ALSO READ: Ohio hiker died of hypothermia at Great Smoky Mountains park]

    Eller's friend Lucia Maya, who knows her through her work as a physical therapist, said she spoke to Eller last week and she was as happy as she'd ever been.

    "She is just an incredibly delightful, warm, loving, bright person," Maya told ABC News. "I've treasured our time together."

    She called the disappearance "really difficult."

    "I was just so shocked when I saw the news. It was through an email that someone told me that she was missing and I know Amanda to be an incredibly strong -- physically strong as well as emotionally, mentally strong -- person," Maya said. "I know that she hikes all the time; she's a water person. She goes on adventures, so the idea that she somehow went missing while on a hike or a run in the Makawao forest is just hard to believe still."

    [ALSO READ: Hikers warned about mountain lions prowling on popular trail]

    Maya said the main trail is not treacherous, but there are offshoots from the main trail that can be dangerous, including steep drops. The trail can be muddy and is heavily wooded.

    Search and rescue crews and dozens of volunteers scoured the woods looking for Eller since Thursday.

    "Each minute, each hour, I keep checking for updates and hope that there is some good news," Maya said. "It gets harder and harder with each hour that goes by. It's pretty devastating and I know that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people that are thinking of her, searching for her, and the more the word goes out, the better.

    "If she did somehow fall and is injured, I just have to believe that she's somehow strong enough physically and mentally that she's able to survive and hold out until the rescuers find her. That's how I'm staying positive."

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