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Missing Hawaii hiker says she 'chose life' after falling from cliff

NBC News logo NBC News 5/26/2019 Dennis Romero
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Teary-eyed and tan, her feet cut and bruised, Amanda Eller spoke Saturday about being lost for more than two weeks in Hawaii's 2,093-acre Makawao Forest Reserve. Ultimately, she said, she chose to survive. 

"The last 17 days of my life have been the toughest days [of my] life, and it's been a really significant spiritual journey that I was guided on," she said in a Facebook video. The 35-year-old shared her experience from her bed at Maui Memorial Medical Center, boyfriend, Benjamin Konkol at her side.

"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," said Eller, a physical therapist and yoga instructor. "And I chose life."

Eller was discovered by a helicopter crew Friday.

She went for a short hike May 8, parking her SUV at the Maui reserve and strolling off without her wallet and phone, authorities said. Konkol reported her missing the next day.

"I woke up in the morning, she wasn't here," he told Dateline NBC. "And that's when I completely freaked out ..."

Eller's mother told reporters at a Saturday news conference that her daughter intended to go on a 3-mile hike but became disoriented after sitting on a log to rest.

"When she got up she was disoriented and followed her instincts to get back to her car — and she was going in the wrong direction," Julia Eller said.

Her daughter heard helicopters that buzzed the forest for days, but none close enough to spot her until Friday, she said.

Amanda Eller told the New York Times that she was injured when she fell 20 feet off a cliff and later lost her shoes in a flash flood. Ultimately, she said, she was reduced to crawling around the forest.

Eller suffered an orthopedic fracture as well as burns on her lower extremities, doctors said Saturday at a news conference.

Sarah Haynes told NBC affiliate KHNL her friend's key to survival was "access to water."

"She had a waterfall," she said.

Dr. Zora Bulatovic of the Maui Memorial Medical Center told reporters Saturday that a patient who had such an experience would normally be dehydrated, but Eller was resourceful.

"She was able to manage to stay hydrated with the river water and eating fresh fruit from the trees," she said.

Julia Eller said she doesn't think her daughter will return to hiking soon. "We'll have her on a break from hiking for a bit," she said.

Meanwhile Maui police and fire officials were searching Saturday for another missing hiker, 28-year-old Noah Mina, thought to be in the Iao Valley. He has been missing for five days.

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