Injured yoga instructor ate moths, berries to survive 2 weeks in rugged Maui forest

A yoga instructor missing for 17 days in a rugged Hawaii forest survived by eating berries and drinking from waterfalls, The Maui News reports.

“It came down to life and death, and I had to choose. I chose life,” said Amanda Eller, KHON reported.

Searchers in a helicopter spotted the 35-year-old Friday in the Makawao Forest Reserve on Maui, NBC News reported. She’d been missing since May 8, when she got lost while on a routine visit to the reserve.

Eller suffered a broken leg and severe sunburn during the ordeal, Hawaii News Now reported. She also lost 15 to 20 pounds.

“The last 17 days of my life have been the toughest,” Eller said Saturday from a Maui hospital, KHON reported.

Eller, last seen on a security camera at a post office the morning of May 8, had gone for a 3-mile jog at the rugged forest reserve when things began going wrong, The Maui News reported.

“She sat down and rested on a fallen log, just kind of meditated and took a little nap,” said Julia Eller, Amanda’s mother, Hawaii News Now reported. “When she got up, she was disoriented about where she was and just followed her instincts trying to get back to her car.”

Eller, who also is a physical therapist, continued walking as she tried to find her way out, according to the station.

“The whole time I was going deeper into the jungle, even though I thought I was going back where I came from,” Eller said, The New York Times reported.

She picked wild raspberries and strawberry guavas to survive, The Maui News reported. Eller also ate some moths that landed on her and tried to catch some crawfish, with no luck.

On her third day lost in the thick forest, Eller fell off a 20-foot cliff, breaking her leg, The New York Times reported. She lost her shoes a day later when a flash flood washed them away after she took them off to dry out.

She covered herself in ferns at night to stay warm, according to the publication, also sleeping in the mud and, one night, in a wild boar’s nest. Finally, she could go no farther.

“That’s a tough woman right there,” said rescuer Troy Helmer, KHON reported.

Meanwhile, rescuers, friends and family had been searching feverishly for Eller while staving off fears she had been abducted, NBC News reported. Her keys and wallet were found in her SUV parked at the reserve.

They offered a $50,000 reward for information and a GoFundMe account raised $75,000 to help finance private search efforts, The Maui News reported.

Searchers rappelled into ravines, searched from helicopters and even killed wild boars to check their digestive systems for human remains, The New York Times reported.

On Friday, a private helicopter conducting an aerial search for Eller had nearly run out of fuel when the crew decided to fly back over a more remote part of the reserve, KHON reported.

“I looked up and they were right on top of me,” Eller said, The New York Times reported. “I was like, ‘Oh my God,’ and I just broke down and started bawling.”

Searchers spotted Eller waving to them from a ravine between two waterfalls, KHON reported.

“I’ve seen that girl every day for the last two weeks about 100 times a day,” said searcher Chris Berquist, The Maui News reported. “There was no mistake it was her.”

The helicopter landed nearby and Eller waited while rescuers worked their way through the thick vegetation to her, The New York Times reported.

“I have the most gratitude and respect and appreciation — I can’t even put it into words — for the people that have helped me, for the people that have prayed for me, for the people that were at base camp, for the people all over the world that somehow just wanted to be a part of this for the greater good,” Eller said Saturday, Hawaii News Now reported.

Dr. Zora Bulatovic said Eller was in “amazing” condition considering her ordeal, and credited her survival skills for keeping herself hydrated and fed, according to the station.

“She was well-educated in that,” Bulatovic said, Hawaii News Now reported. “She knew exactly what to take and managed to stay hydrated.”

Eller was released from a Maui hospital on Saturday and is recovering at a family member’s home, said John Eller, her father, NBC News reported.

“It’s just a miracle,” said Julia Eller, Hawaii News Now reported. “Our daughter has come to us and in wonderful condition.”

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Don Sweeney has been a newspaper reporter and editor in California for more than 25 years. He has been a real-time reporter based at The Sacramento Bee since 2016.