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Amanda Eller: ‘I believe there’s a bigger purpose to my story’

Hiker missing in Makawao Forest Reserve gives firsthand account of her ordeal Tuesday

Rescued hiker Amanda Eller pauses during a news conference at Maui Memorial Medical Center Tuesday. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

WAILUKU — New details are coming to light about Amanda Eller’s 17 days lost in East Maui, where she started out on a hike along a carved path in Makawao Forest Reserve and ended about 5 miles makai on a narrow riverbed swallowed by dense vegetation and deep ravines in Kailua.

Eller, flanked by father, John; mother, Julia; sister, Alicia; and brother, Chris, spoke during a news conference Tuesday at Maui Memorial Medical Center prior to her medical appointment there. It was the first time she talked with national and local media outlets about her experience, which she is calling “spiritual boot camp.”

“It’s hard to explain what happened, that’s a very grounded way to put it, getting disoriented in the forest — but there was something bigger at play,” she said. “Makawao forest, anybody that’s been there searching, you guys know, I mean you turn your head one way and it looks like the other way and exactly like the other way. Which way is north? Which way is my car?”

On May 8, Eller said she awoke at the Haiku home she shares with boyfriend, Benjamin Konkol; meditated; cleaned a bit and had a superfruit smoothie of ashwagandha and protein powder, along with an RX protein bar and some water.

“I really didn’t have much in my stomach. I didn’t have any caffeine and any sugar. I definitely didn’t have any drugs or alcohol or anything like that,” she said. “Anybody that knows me and knows my spiritual journey in the last few years know that I get high off of life, and off of people and heart. And so, I don’t know. Everybody can have their theories there, I don’t care.”

Alicia Eller wheels her sister, Amanda Eller, around at a news conference Tuesday at Maui Memorial Medical Center. Amanda Eller was rescued Friday after spending 17 days in the Makawao Forest Reserve. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Eller said she was supposed to meet a friend but that didn’t pan out. Instead, she did some errands and went to ground herself in nature on a 3-mile hike off “Hunter’s Trail” in the reserve to an area where she hadn’t been to before.

“I love to stay away from EMF (electromagnetic fields), cellphones,” said Eller, who left her keys, cellphone and wallet in the car. “My goal was 3 miles, a couple of hours.”

Eller said she took a break, “laid down on a tree” and tried to go back the way she came.

The path was not leading back to the car, though. She said she soon realized the trails were not biking or walking paths; they were boar paths that led her farther away.

“I don’t really know what happened,” Eller said, who emphasized that she is still processing the experience. “All I can say is that I got out of my car, it’s like I have a strong sense of internal guidance, whatever you want to call that, a voice, spirit, everyone has a different name for it, heart.

“My heart was telling me walk down this path, ‘Go left.’ Great. ‘Go right’ — it was so strong. I’m like, great, this is so strong that obviously when I turn around and go back to my car, its gonna be just as strong. But it wasn’t.”

Eller said she continued to follow her “strong sense of guidance,” which led her about 5 miles away from her car before being found by friend Javier Cantellops, who’s her diving instructor, and Chris Berquist, who led her search effort. Hunter Troy Helmer was also aboard the helicopter that spotted her.

“I believe there’s a bigger purpose to my story,” she said. “It’s not a girl that got lost in the woods, it’s this. It’s everything that’s happening right now.”

The 35-year-old Haiku resident’s ordeal began May 8 and ended Friday. Eller was reported missing to police by Konkol on May 9 and her car was recovered by officials that day in a less-traveled reserve parking lot.

An initial ground and air search of the forest by police and fire officials spawned a large-scale volunteer effort that drew an average of 100 people a day. The search covered water, land and air and involved drones, scent dogs, rappellers, divers, hunters and even psychics.

Eller, who suffered a leg fracture, skin infections on both shins and sunburn, was found Friday afternoon. She was hospitalized and released Sunday.

The yoga instructor and physical therapist, who said she considers herself more of a “healer” after this experience, said she had been working over the last six months with a physic named Ruth and some of “the strongest teachers in the world” who have helped guide her in a variety of ways.

“Little did I know they were preparing me for what I’m calling spiritual boot camp, which is what I went through,” she said.