Maui hiker Amanda Eller, who was found alive May 24 after she was lost for more than two weeks in the Makawao Forest Reserve, posted a lengthy, seven-minute video apology on Facebook this morning in an effort to clear up some misunderstandings.
She admitted that it was naive and irresponsible of her to head out into the woods unprepared, but that it was never her intention to put anybody in harm’s way.
“I just wanted to apologize for putting anybody in harm’s way, for any kind of rescue efforts that people feel were unnecessary,” she said. “I apologize and I also thank every single person that showed up, boots on the ground, to try to help find me. Thousands of people were praying for me. I am in such awe and gratitude of all the people that helped me find my way back to my family… I can never repay that. All I can do is thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
She added that she realizes she should have had her cell phone and water bottle with her, as well as other preparatory tools for hiking. She hopes other people will be aware of the preparation needed as a result of her story, “when choosing to explore Maui in different ways.”
Eller, a 35-year-old physical therapist and yoga instructor, also tried to clarify her account of what happened on May 8.
She said her initial intention was to go for a 3-mile run at the forest reserve and then return to her car, and not to go on a “spiritual journey,” which is how she described her ordeal following her release from the hospital. She said she did not carry anything with her because she intended to go for a run.
But with many downed trees, that run turned into a hike, she said, and after about 1.5 miles in, she sat down on a tree and meditated, after which she could not find the path back to her car.
“There were not any drugs taken at all,” she said. “I was not under the influence of anything.”
She then spent hours trying to find her way back to her car, frustrated and disoriented.
“Had I had my cell phone with me that would not have been the case,” she said. “So that was my irresponsibility and for that, I apologize… It was never my intention through any of this to put anybody in harm’s way, to create a rescue effort out of my being lost in the woods.”
Eller also thanked the Maui community and others from around the globe for their outpouring of support, prayers and kind words.
Today, Eller’s father, John Eller, and Chris Berquist, one of the three rescuers who spotted her by helicopter, also announced a new initiative via YouTube posted to the “Find Amanda” Facebook group, making the technology they used to find her available to the community for future search efforts for missing hikers.
After first responders held their initial 72-hour search, volunteers were using hand-drawn maps.
The “volunteer initiative” would include mobile tracking data and the technology, practices and lessons learned from the “Find Amanda” campaign. It would be funded by InSight Mobile Data, a company founded by John Eller.
“Some of these technologies we developed to manage the whole search effort basically wound up serving us very very well and led to a very efficient methodical ability to really clear areas,” said John Eller in a YouTube video announcement.
Berquist, who had reportedly lost his job because he did not want to give up time volunteering for the search, will be heading up these efforts on Maui.
Berquist said the goal is to make search and rescue efforts more efficient by using technology, mobile tracking data to keep track of areas searched, and the development of an app.
“One of the things we learned out there is an app can be a powerful tool for a search,” he said, “so we’re going to create a more user-friendly app that will help with tracking, picture dropping and real-time tracking, and people can get updates while they’re in the field for different search areas, things like that.”
Eller added that the some remaining GoFundMe campaign funds — more than $77,000 raised — would also be used to provide cameras at the Makawao Forest Reserve, as well as possibly other areas that need to be monitored. He did not specify the amount.
There will also be a new foundation, yet to be named, with seed money provided by Insight, to carry out the initiative.