A Hawaii yoga teacher who went missing for more than two weeks while hiking in Maui spoke out from her hospital bed about what drove her to stay alive.
In an emotional filmed statement and released Saturday, 35-year-old Amanda Eller, a physical therapist, described the resilience that kept her going, even as she faced down death.
“The last 17 days of my life have been the toughest days of my life, and 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,” she said. “I wasn’t going to take the easy way out even though that meant more suffering and pain for myself.”
The video was posted to a Facebook page run by her family called Findamanda, which was used to help organize the search efforts for her and post updates.
Eller vanished on May 8 in Maui’s Makawao Forest Reserve and was reported missing the next day. Police found her car in the parking lot with her cell phone and wallet inside and the key hidden under a front tire.
Questions immediately arose as to whether she was abducted or attacked, but her family, friends and volunteers relentlessly searched, first offering $10,000 then $50,000 to anyone with information on her whereabouts.
On Friday, rescuers in a helicopter spotted Eller in a ravine surrounded by densely wooded terrain. She had suffered injuries and become lost in the forest, and was still wearing the same tank top and athletic leggings in which she was last seen before she disappeared.
She is recovering and appears to be in good spirits. Family friend Sarah Haynes said her release date from the hospital isn’t yet known, and that Eller’s public statement will be her only one for the next few days as she recuperates.
Eller was touched by the show of support from searchers who persisted in looking for her. Some didn’t know her but said they felt compelled to lend a hand.
“Seeing the way that the community of Maui came together... just under the idea of helping one person make it out of the woods alive, it just warms my heart,” she said. “This was all about us coming together for a greater purpose of community and love and appreciation for life.”
According to The New York Times, Eller began dropping weight as the days continued, attempting to sustain herself in the woods by eating moths, plants and wild strawberry guavas. At night she slept covered in leaves and ferns, sometimes in the mud. On one occasion, she stayed in a wild boar’s den ― a risky move given that these animals can become aggressive.
Thanking those who worked to locate her, Eller called their mission “a beautiful exchange of energy amongst the people for all the right reasons.”