Family, friends continue search Sunday: Hiker still missing in Makawao Forest Reserve

With the official search for Amanda Eller, 35, suspended, her family arrives to keep looking

Volunteers gather at the base camp to search for missing hiker Amanda Eller on Sunday afternoon at the Makawao Forest Reserve. Eller was last seen Wednesday morning. Her car was found in the reserve parking lot. The Maui News / COLLEEN UECHI photos

MAKAWAO — On a rainy Mother’s Day afternoon, Julia Eller donned her hiking boots and rain gear and went searching for her missing daughter in the Makawao Forest Reserve.

“It’s not the kind of Mother’s Day that I wanted,” said Eller, who flew in Sunday to join the search for her daughter Amanda, who’s been missing since Wednesday. “But I’m hopeful that perhaps I will get a Mother’s Day gift in getting her back.”

Police and fire suspended the search for Amanda Eller on Sunday, hours before her friends and family flew in from overseas and the East Coast to help continue the search. Volunteers are resuming efforts at 7:30 a.m. today, said Kimberlyn Scott, who is helping to coordinate the search for the 35-year-old Haiku resident.

Amanda Eller, a physical therapist and yoga instructor, was last seen by her boyfriend Ben Konkol at about 7:30 a.m. Wednesday. Konkol said Sunday evening during a news conference that it was her day off and that she didn’t have any plans. She was supposed to hang out with a friend, but that friend had cancelled the night before. When Konkol got a ride to work at 7:30 a.m., he said she was meditating.

“We went through her phone, and none of the texts, none of the calls signified her going on a hike,” Konkol said. “But it’s not unlike her. She likes to spend her days off in nature.”

Sarah Haynes (left), friend of missing hiker Amanda Eller, introduces Eller’s family during a news conference at Sip Me in Makawao on Sunday evening. Eller’s family and friends arrived on Maui on Sunday to help continue search efforts, which police and fire have suspended after 72 hours. Next to Hanyes is Amanda’s sister Alicia Eller (from left), father John Eller, boyfriend Ben Konkol, mother Julia Eller and Kimberlyn Scott, the mother of Charli Scott, who is helping to coordinate search efforts.

Witnesses placed her on a forest trail and her white Toyota RAV4 in the forest reserve parking lot between 8 a.m. and noon Wednesday. Police recovered her vehicle in the parking lot with her cellphone and wallet inside, and her key hidden under the driver’s side front tire. A widespread search began at 10 a.m. Thursday, drawing fire crews, the department’s Air One helicopter, police officers with K9s, Haleakala National Park Service rangers, state forestry workers and dozens of volunteers.

The Fire Department announced it was suspending its search as of 11:40 a.m. Sunday. Assistant Chief Val Martin said the department normally assists police for 72 hours in missing person cases and would help with future searching if new information comes up.

“As of today, both we and fire are no longer actively looking in that area unless we receive new information,” police spokesman Lt. Gregg Okamoto said Sunday. “We will still (be) actively following up with any and all leads.”

On Sunday evening, Amanda Eller’s mother Julia, father John and sister Alicia held a news conference with Konkol, Scott and spokeswoman Sarah Haynes. Brother Chris arrives today. Haynes emphasized that the family does not see Konkol as a suspect.

“We are not even remotely concerned about Ben’s involvement in this situation,” Haynes said Sunday evening. “There’s two reasons — I’ll just state them right ahead of time so we don’t have to go there. Number one, he’s a kind, gentle soul whom she adored. Number two, Ben could not possibly have logistically brought her car in during those hours, and we are very confident that that car could not get there before 7 a.m. because there is a steel gate locked.”

Signs offering a $10,000 reward for anyone with information on Eller’s whereabouts have been placed throughout the forest reserve and Makawao town.

More than 100 volunteers showed up to aid in the search Sunday, including hunters familiar with the area and recreational rappellers willing to drop into sheer gulches.

Dan Johnson said eight rappellers split into two groups and explored the Waiohiwi gulch and another one nearby. He said the conditions were “sheer, just vertical at some points.”

“But we kind of just walked along the bottom of it after we got down into it,” he explained. “Near the end we saw some footprints after the lower waterfall, but I think that was probably other people searching . . . Other than that, nothing up there. Between there and here just one beer can was the only manmade thing that was up there.”

Julia Eller said she was able to spend 45 minutes in the forest after arriving on Maui on Sunday afternoon. She said it was muddy and rugged with lots of downed trees.

“I spent time calling her and looking where I could under any areas where I could get to that I thought might present a situation where she could’ve slipped off the ledge,” she said. “I’ve asked to be put on a grid (today). I want to be part of the search to find her.”

Dan Johnson of Makawao shows a map of the gulches that he and several other rappellers searched Sunday.

Scott said volunteers should meet at the base camp set up near the hunting entrance. She suggested that people park at the upper lots and avoid parking along the road to keep it clear for emergency vehicles.

“We will also be doing grid searches down the road, so we need people to be fully aware that there will be people out on this road,” Scott said. “Drive safely, carefully, coming up here and just be aware that we’ll have people out here.”

Scott said today’s plan is to do a “type 1 grid search,” in which searchers are about 10 feet apart and have to keep each other in their line of sight. She said volunteers have combed the trail pretty thoroughly and that now they plan to focus on areas off-trail.

Volunteers should be prepared with good hiking shoes, long pants, rain gear, fully charged cellphones with backup batteries and flashlights just in case, though Haynes said the search normally ends before dark. If volunteers have phones with GPS capabilities, they can also download an app — GPS Tracks on iPhones and US Topo Maps on Android — that will allow organizers to create a map showing what ground has been covered.

Scott said they’re also looking for people to donate or loan out walkie talkies. The base camp is well stocked with water and “we’re doing OK on food,” Scott said. Anyone wanting to bring their dogs should call ahead first. Scott also reminded people to be sure to sign in and out when they arrive and leave so that everyone is accounted for.

The Ellers have posted a $10,000 reward for anyone with information that leads to their daughter’s safe return. Julia Eller said that if someone has taken her, they’re not interested in them — they just want their daughter home safe. But, Haynes said, “if you don’t give us her, we’re going to find you.”

Haynes encouraged anyone with information to call Maui Crime Stoppers, which takes anonymous tips, at 242-6966. Updates are posted periodically on the “Findamanda” Facebook page.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.