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Lost Maui hiker Amanda Eller reflects on her 17-day fight for survival: "I chose life"

A yoga teacher who survived 17 days in a Hawaiian forest is back home with her family. More than two weeks ago, 35-year-old Amanda Eller set out for what was supposed to be a three-mile jog. Instead, it turned into a fight for survival.

"The last 17 days of my life have been the toughest days of my life," Eller said from her hospital bed where she's recovering from a broken shinbone and a skin infection on her legs. "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."

Eller was discovered miles from where she started hiking in Maui's Makawao Forest Reserve, after friends and family launched their own search. Her survival is all the more incredible when you consider she had no cellphone and was only wearing yoga pants and a tank top when she went missing.

Eller was jogging on a trail when she says she pulled over to rest. As she tried to make her way back to her car she didn't realize she was walking deeper and deeper into this forest. After several hours and many wrong turns, she found herself lost in a maze.

After three days and no sign of Eller, the official search was called off as per standard procedure.

"The situation was completely unknown which was so scary," Eller's father, John, said.

Friends and family didn't give up, taking matters into their own hands. They offered a $50,000 reward and raised enough funds for their own search on land and in the air. Peter Vorhes piloted the rescue mission and says he was just about to run out of fuel when a last-minute call to turn right led to a miracle. That's when they spotted her on top of a waterfall. 

Volunteers Troy Helmer and Chris Berquist, who didn't even know Eller, were also in the helicopter.

"We came around the turn, and all of a sudden you said, 'There's a hiker down there!' I said 'There's nobody hiking up here.' And sure enough he said 'That's Amanda! That's Amanda!,'" Helmer recalled.

"We're all crying and screaming and laughing," Berquist said of moment they reached her. "And it was just the relief. I just sat down next to her."

Eller braved the heat, the cold, and even flash floods drinking stream water and sleeping in a wild boar's den one night. Her fighting spirit was still evident in cell phone video captured after her rescue where she offers to walk herself instead of being carried.

Along with a severe sunburn, Heller lost 20 pounds and suffered a fractured leg from falling into a steep ravine. The first call she made was to her father. He was so overcome with emotion, he doesn't remember what her first words were.

"It was just nothing but pure emotion and sobbing really. Just so happy to be together," he said.

In a video posted to Facebook, Eller shared her gratitude, saying, "Just seeing the power of prayer and the power of love when everybody combines their efforts is incredible, it can move mountains."

Eller said that during her ordeal she saw and heard multiple helicopters fly over her, but they never spotted her.  She was eventually found about three miles from where her hike began, but with the rugged terrain the people here tell me that can feel more like 30 miles.

Eller will have a chance to thank the hundreds of volunteers who helped search for her at a barbecue hosted by friends and family on Monday. 

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