After being lost in the jungles of Hawaii for 17 days, hiker Amanda Eller was found during a rescue mission lead by three men.
While flying by in a helicopter, Javier Cantellops, Chris Berquist and Troy Helmer spotted Eller, a yoga teacher and physical therapist, waving near a remote creek bed. Upon seeing her, the team immediately sprung into action.
The 35-year-old hiker went missing on May 8 during a 3-mile hike on the island of Maui. She became disoriented after taking a break to meditate and rest.
On Monday, Cantellops, Berquist and Helmer spoke to TODAY’s Craig Melvin and Sheinelle Jones about their rescue mission, and revealed new details surrounding the end of the two-week search for Eller.
“As the search for Amanda went on for days and weeks, you had this hunch about where she was and how she was doing. What was that hunch?” Craig asked Cantellops.
“I just felt that she was alive,” Cantellops explained. "I was pretty much telling myself or telling everybody if we haven’t found her, if we haven’t smelled her, then that’s because she’s on the move and she’s moving out. She’s just way farther out than we think she is.”
Sheinelle asked Cantellops about the harsh conditions the 35-year-old had to endure while stranded in the tropical jungle alone for two weeks.
“I think a lot of her survival has to do with who she is,” he explained. “Her experience in the forest itself, her knowledge of the vegetation, but in reality her physical therapy, her expertise in the human anatomy. I think that her injuries, she was able to treat them and treat herself and pretty much be able to assess her situation out in the field and be able to move forward with those injuries.”
Helmer explained the various challenges of the rescue, detailing the obstacles the team had to face to reach Eller down in the creek bed.
First, the helicopter dropped the team off on the opposite side of the gulch where they were unable to reach Eller. The pilot circled back around to drop them off on the other side which, thankfully, was located on Helmer’s usual hunting trail.
“I knew the layout,” he said. “I knew the place and we were doing leapfrog through a bunch of the ferns and then we got to a spot where I was actually telling everybody to go right and she was actually on the left, but we made a little circle, came over the top and dropped right down on top of her.”
Cantellops described the rescue as “pure elation” and a “surreal moment.”
“We went way past cloud nine,” he told Craig. “And then getting there and actually hugging her and being apart of it, you know, actually Troy and Chris, they had never met Amanda before. That was actually the first time they had ever been with her ... so wrapping my arms around her was the greatest moment I can say about my life.”
Eller suffered a broken leg, severe sunburns and a skin infection during her struggle in the jungle.
“It’s just a miracle,” Julia Eller, the yoga instructor's mother, said.
“I have the most gratitude and respect and appreciation. I can’t even put it into words for the people who helped me," Amanda Eller said in a Facebook video. “The last 17 days of my life have been the toughest days of my life. There were times of total fear and loss and wanting to give up and it did come down to life and death and I had to choose. And I chose life. I wasn’t going to take the easy way out.”