Missing hiker Amanda Eller has emotional reunion with her rescuers: 'You guys are the heroes'

Hiker Amanda Eller gathered with the Maui community that came together to save her life.

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/ Source: TODAY
By Scott Stump

Amanda Eller had an emotional reunion Monday night with the men who rescued her after she was lost for 17 days in a Hawaiian jungle, hugging them tight in thanks for saving her life.

"You guys are the heroes,'' Eller said during a community gathering. "I am not the hero, I am just the girl sitting here healing my ankles."

Eller, 35, is still recovering following her rescue on May 24 when she was spotted by a helicopter team after spending more than two weeks in a jungle on the island of Maui.

"I am so blessed for every breath that I take,'' Eller said.

She gave thanks to the hundreds of people in the local community who spent weeks contributing to the efforts to find her.

"I've never experienced anything like this where the community is showing up with so much freakin' heart and so much passion, and these guys were not going to give up on me, thank God!" she said Monday night.

"It was incredible to see her (on Monday night),'' rescuer Javier Cantellops told Savannah Guthrie on TODAY Tuesday. "She was just so incredibly gracious to every single person who came to her."

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Her friend Sarah Haynes, who helped coordinate the search effort, gave an update on Eller's condition on TODAY Tuesday.

"She's doing great,'' Haynes said. "She's got a little bit of a one step backward, two steps forward situation, but she's spiritually great. She's going through a very grueling process on her legs, where they need to remove the tops of the wounds and it's very painful, much like a burn victim.

"Physically, she's gone backward a little bit. She walked out of the hospital, now she's in a wheelchair, but it's all part of the healing process, so she's still moving forward."

The yoga instructor and physical therapist suffered a fractured leg, severe sunburn and a skin infection during her ordeal. She had gone for a hike on May 8 and become disoriented without her phone and GPS after stopping to meditate and rest.

Eller was also without shoes and socks on rocky terrain for about 12 days because one night she slept in a cave and a flash flood washed them away, according to Haynes. There were times when Eller questioned whether she would survive.

"She had kind of resigned herself to talking to the universe and saying 'Hey look, I really don't want to go, but if this is my highest purpose for some reason, then I'll accept it, but I'm really hoping that you'll allow me to have a higher purpose with this story and my situation,''' Haynes said.

While flying by in a helicopter, Cantellops, Chris Berquist and Troy Helmer spotted her waving from an area five miles deep into the jungle.

Cantellops said on TODAY that they had only about five minutes' worth of fuel remaining in the helicopter when they spotted Eller in an area where her boyfriend had suggested to look early in the search process.

"That moment will live down in the depths of my soul forever,'' he said. "We're coming up this waterfall and look down and she appears out of the wood. It can only be described as magic. It was the greatest single moment of my life."

The area where they found her was between two waterfalls and a steep canyon.

"I don't go in that valley because it's so steep and there's so many boxed canyons that you're not coming out of there,'' Helmer told NBC's Molly Hunter on TODAY Tuesday.

Eller survived by eating jungle fruit, drinking river water and sleeping in mud for warmth. She could move only by crawling after she fell off a 20-foot cliff and fractured a leg.

"It did come down to life and death and I had to choose ... and I chose life,'' Eller said in a Facebook video Saturday. "I wasn't going to take the easy way out."

Eller has returned home with her family as the painful wounds in her legs continue to heal. She is expected to share more of her ordeal Tuesday in a press conference at the hospital.

"If anyone could survive that it was her," her father, John Eller, said on the day she was rescued.