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Cheers, toasts and tears: Searchers react after Amanda Eller found alive Friday in East Maui

Over 1K volunteers pitched in during weekslong search

MAKAWAO — The base camp for Amanda Eller’s search team erupted with cheers, champagne toasts and lots of tears as news of her safe retrieval spread throughout the otherwise silent and still forest.

Eller’s mother, Julia Eller, who was out searching in remote terrain when the helicopter located Amanda about seven miles from where her daughter’s car was last seen, drove to the base camp lot and was greeted by volunteers.

“We all did it,” she said as tears streamed down her face. “All things are possible.”

About a half-hour earlier, Amanda’s father, John Eller, had shared the happy news with volunteers. He then invited everyone to a large-scale party, inciting more laughter and clapping.

“There was lots of screaming,” said Jamie-Sue West, a Kihei resident who joined the search for six days. “I felt relief, amazement. It was the outcome we hoped for.”

More than 1,000 searchers had joined the volunteer-led effort since the Haiku woman’s disappearance was reported May 9. Eller was last seen by her boyfriend, Benjamin Konkol, at their home on the morning of May 8. The official search involved a multitude of agencies, including police, fire, state Department of Land & Natural Resources, American Medical Response and Maui Search & Rescue.

Eller’s family flew in from the Mainland to assist. Residents quit jobs, visitors changed travel plans and strangers showed up for hours or daylong surveys of the dense forest, where Eller was known to run.

“I’ve lost more weight the last two weeks than I have in the last two years,” West said.

As night started to fall Friday, the parking lot was still buzzing with excitement. Lead searchers Javier Cantellops and Chris Berquist, along with hunter Troy Helmer, who were on the helicopter that found Amanda, drove up. With each arrival came waves of more hugs, tears and laughter.

“We’re on an island and we’re all connected,” Kihei resident Shawn Kleinart said. “I haven’t found this type of community anywhere else.”

Kim Abrahamson, a former client of Eller’s who participated in the search Friday, said the Haiku physical therapist is strong and centered.

“If anyone could survive this, it would be her,” she said.

Maui police said Friday afternoon that Eller was found above the Kailua reservoir at about 3:45 p.m. Helmer described the area as Papaaea in Haiku, a few miles above Bamboo Forest and Commando Hike. He said Eller was in a canyon that she would not have made it out of because “you gotta go up to go down.”

Many volunteers credited the work of Berquist, who has an emergency medical services background, and Cantellops, who has military experience.

Berquist, who left his job as an arborist to lead the search, said that the community effort put in 5,200 man hours. Meanwhile, volunteers said his daily emails helped keep them going.

“His words were inspiring,” said volunteer Sheila Haynes, a Makawao resident who brought wine to base camp Friday after hearing the news.

Berquist’s next plan?

“Getting some sleep. Eating some food.”

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.