Lost and presumed dead hiker found after 17 days

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After being missing for more than two weeks, Amanda Eller’s friends and family feared the worst. Her car was found near a trail leading into a vast Hawaiian forest. Since she had left some of her personal belongings in the vehicle, people feared that she had been kidnapped or killed. But, this is a heroic story of wilderness survival and not a tragic story of a killing.

After a $50,000 reward for the woman’s rescue was offered by Eller’s family, Eller was found alive on a Friday afternoon after surviving for most of the month in the wilderness. Although half starved and injured, rescuers nonetheless found Eller alive.

Eller, a 35-year-old physical therapist, had intended to hike only a few miles into the wilderness. The Hawaiian wilderness is dark and foreboding, full of sharp rocks and thick with tropical vegetation and trees, the sort of place where one could become lost after only a few miles. Much of the jungle is too thick to walk through, and so one cannot simply walk in a straight line until they reach the edge of the forest. Try as they might, someone who gets lost in the woods can surely end up walking in circles. After moving away from the path, Eller found herself lost. Trying to return to the trail, she ended up walking deeper and deeper into the forest. Walking for more than twelve hours during the first day, she found herself deep in the Hawaiian wilds.


By the third day, with the rescue authorities looking for her, Eller knew she had to find water to survive. While searching for water, Eller fell off of a cliff and tore her knee, considerably slowing her down and making her fear death. A flash flood took away her shoes, and now she risked cutting her feet on the sharp volcanic rocks found all over the Pacific islands. After locating water, Eller was able to find small amounts of food, such as wild strawberries. She continued to move around in the wilderness in spite of her injury, sleeping underneath ferns and whatever else she could find. Unable to find more than a small amount of food, Eller began losing weight.

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Rescuers, however, were on their way. As well as the police and fire department, a large number of volunteers appeared, searching the jungle for what they feared could turn out to be a dead body and not a living person. Wild boars are a threat in Hawaii, and the volunteers killed aggressive wild boards in some cases. Since most of the volunteers believed that Eller was still reasonably close to her car, it took weeks to find her. Some of the rescuers were willing to search deeper into the wilderness, however, and for this reason, they were eventually able to find Eller. There were a few times when Eller saw helicopters during her ordeal, but she was unable to flag them down. Finally, on the 17th day, a malnourished Eller was finally able to make herself seen by a helicopter and taken to the hospital. Eller describes her experience as a spiritual journey, in which she faced death and lived. She feels indebted to the size of the volunteer force that came to her rescue and did not give up after they did not find her quickly.

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