Drones & Dogs Used in the Search for Amanda Eller

May 17, 2019, 8:24 AM HST · Updated May 17, 10:43 AM
Debra Lordan · 16 Comments
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Entrance gate to Makawao Forest Reserve. May 16, 2019. PC: Debra Lordan

The search operations base camp moved to the big upper parking lot on Wednesday, May 15, 2019, due to the activity of search dogs in the lower parking lot, where one dog had picked up Amanda Eller’s scent. Police had brought in additional search dogs from Oʻahu to assist. They worked up the road from there but were unable to detect anything, according to Chris Berquist, a volunteer team leader in the search for Amanda Eller.

Hunter instruction sign on Kahakapao Road, May 16, 2019. PC: Debra Lordan

Police and fire personnel continued to search the area by air and foot after receiving a 9-1-1 call on May 14 from an area above the Makawao Forest about possible additional information relating to the investigation. A dog was dispatched to that location as well, but nothing was found.

Search headquarters moved to the big upper parking lot due to activity of search dogs in the lower parking lot, where they picked up Amanda Eller’s scent. PC: Debra Lordan

About 20 Maui Fire Department personnel scoured the upper road area all day on May 15, as well as 30 volunteers. They covered the contour road, pocket gulches and hunting camps.

Berquist said that about 120 volunteers had checked in to help on Thursday, May 17, as of 2:30 p.m. They plan on covering every trail, stream, drainage area, gulch, waterfalls, side roads and gulches off side roads as well as both sides of the main roads.

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He said, “As long as we can keep getting volunteers to come out, we’re going to keep using them and keep extending the search further out.”

Check-in, check out station, May 16, 2019. PC: Debra Lordan

Thursday’s search shifted to areas where Eller might have gone for a swim, based on what she was seen wearing in the Ha‘iku Mart video, and the fact that she left her keys and cell phone in her car. They focused on the lower Pi‘iholo area, including “Pi‘iholo Pond,” which they are accessing through Pi‘iholo Ranch. They also planned to send 30 people to explore a large, half-mile wide gulch as well as the Awalao area and toward Waikamoi Stream—downhill areas where water is found.

Volunteers also double- and triple-checked the Kahakapao Loop Trail and areas off the trail and between trails. Berquist said they have “tons of overlapping data of the loop.”

Search area map, May 16, 2019. The blue lines indicate GPS tracking data. PC: Debra Lordan

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He said that small groups with not a lot of time to search are sent back into the loop area so they can fill in the entire map of the area with GPS data.

They plan to check the tops and bottoms of waterfalls, including the use of divers at the bottom of five waterfalls on Thursday afternoon.

In areas that cannot be accessed, the team planned to send a rappel team or licensed, commercial drone operators.

Commercial drone operator Greg Hoxsie and Kalani Prince, May 16, 2019. PC: Debra Lordan

As of Thursday afternoon, two drone operators on motorcycles capable of handling the rough terrain arrived to receive instructions. After an exploratory trip, they returned to request that a gate be unlocked so they could fly their drones above the dense forest canopy for a better look.

One of the drone pilots, Kalani Prince, said the footage they would take could be filtered to show only the color of clothing that Eller was wearing. It is unknown at this time whether or not they were successful in gaining access to the higher elevation area.

Check-in, check-out table at central ops of the Amanda Eller search site. May 16 , 2019. PC: Debra Lordan

The other drone pilot, Greg Hoxsie, is a certified commercial, FAA-licensed operator—only pilots with this type of license are allowed to operate in the forest reserve system.

Eller’s boyfriend, Benjamin Konkol, who said he was the last person to see his girlfriend the day she disappeared, has been participating in the team searches every day, according to Berquist.

“He has been the first guy out and one of the last guys back since the search started,” said Berquist.

Despite the lead and intensive search, no traces were found as of Friday morning, May 17.

Eller went missing on May 8 and her car was found the following day in the parking lot near the Kahakapao trail head at the Makawao Forest Reserve.  Eller, who is a physical therapist and yoga instructor, was last seen by her boyfriend, Benjamin Konkol, who said Eller was meditating when he left for work at around 7:30 a.m. on May 8.

“Find Amanda” sign on Kahakapao Road, May 16, 2019. PC: Debra Lordan

New surveillance images were released on May 15 of Eller at the Haʻikū Market at 10:10 a.m. on the day she went missing. According to the Findamanda Facebook page, Amanda purchased an energy bar and boxes of dry tea. She was wearing dark yoga pants, a light-colored tank top and black slippers (flip-flops). A vehicle matching Eller’s was also observed at the Haʻikū Post Office at 10:19 a.m. on May 8, which coincides with reports that she had apparently mailed a Mother’s Day package on the day she disappeared.

On May 16, her family made a plea for help to the National Guard. There is still no word as to whether the National Guard has agreed to be involved in the search.

Debra Lordan
Debra Lordan has been a writer and website editor for Maui Now since December 2014.

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