Photos courtesy of Facebook.com/AmandaEllersMissing and Javier Cantellops.
Studying real-world survival situations is a great way to become more prepared in case you ever find yourself in one. There's much we can learn from the stories of lost and injured individuals, both those who lived to tell the tale and those who tragically did not. Fortunately, today's example falls into the former category. Amanda Eller, a 35-year-old physical therapist, managed to survive in the Hawaiian forest for 17 days with nothing but the clothes on her back.
At 10:30am on May 8th, Eller parked her SUV near the 2,000-acre Makawao Forest Reserve on the island of Maui. This was a common practice for Eller, an avid hiker and runner. Planning on a short 3-mile hike, she reportedly left her cell phone, wallet, and water bottle in her vehicle, then hid the keys underneath a tire. She was wearing a tank top, capri-length yoga pants, and running shoes as she headed into the forest alone.
When Eller didn't return, local authorities dispatched search and rescue personnel. Teams scoured the forest for several days, but found nothing, even considering the possibility of an abduction or other foul play. Refusing to give up hope, family and friends launched a Facebook page to provide news and coordinate volunteer search efforts. A GoFundMe page was also created, and collected $77,000 in donations to support the search.
After 17 days, a search helicopter spotted Eller near the edge of a stream in a dense section of forest several miles from her vehicle. She was airlifted to a hospital, and treated for multiple injuries including a fractured leg and torn meniscus, severe sunburns, and malnutrition. She is expected to make a full recovery.
Above: The location where Eller was found; severe sunburns on her ankles.
Eller told the New York Times that she got lost in the forest and fell down a 20-foot cliff, causing the injuries to her leg. She also said she lost her shoes during a flash flood the next day, but continued to move slowly through the forest in hopes of finding her vehicle. She ate wild strawberry guavas (an invasive species of plant on Maui) as well as other unknown plants and insects. She covered herself in ferns and leaves for shelter at night.
Above: Eller with her rescuers before being airlifted to the hospital.
There is much we can learn from this story. Here are a few basic lessons that stood out to us:
Always communicate your plans to others. If friends and family know exactly where you went, the route you'll take, and when you'll be back, it will greatly improve your chances of being rescued. This can be as simple as sending a quick text message before you leave.
Know when to stay put. As long as there's a chance that rescue could be coming — there should be if you followed the previous tip — you're usually better off to make yourself visible and remain where you are. This will help rescue personnel trace your steps quickly rather than searching a large area.
Always have more gear than you think you'll need. No matter how inconvenient it may be to bring items such as warmer clothes, food and water, and a cell phone on your adventures, it's certainly less inconvenient than ending up lost or in danger.
There's safety in numbers. Venturing out alone puts you at far greater risk if something bad happens, whether that's getting lost or attacked on the trail. Bring a friend when possible.
A survivor's mindset is essential. Even though Eller was lost, injured, and at a major disadvantage given her lack of gear, she didn't give up. Without the willpower it takes to face a survival situation, it'll be impossible to survive a few days alone, much less 17.
UPDATE: Eller's explanation in this new video interview is interesting to say the least. “I have a strong sense of internal guidance, whatever you want to call that. A voice, spirit, everybody has a different name for it…. my heart was telling me, walk down this path, go left.”