10 Days Missing: More Scent Dogs Used in Search for Amanda Eller

May 18, 2019, 9:37 AM HST · Updated May 19, 12:24 PM
Debra Lordan · 37 Comments
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Amanda Eller has been missing for 10 days now. The search continues. Maui Now graphic by Wendy Osher. Background photo Debra Lordan. Foreground photo courtesy Sarah Haynes / Findamanda Facebook page.

Additional scent dogs along with divers, drones and rappellers have been utilized in the search for Amanda Eller, who has now been missing for 10 days—since Wednesday, May 8, 2019.

“From 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and into the night, people are putting actual blood, sweat and tears into this search… mostly sweat,” said Berquist.

Volunteers tallied 400 man-hours on Thursday, May, 16, and almost 300 man-hours on Friday, May 17, according to registration desk figures.

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“We’re over a week into the search and we still have over 100 people coming out to help every single day,” said search team leader Chris Berquist in a late-night email to volunteers who have registered for the search.

Add to that, workers from Pi‘iholo Ranch, and volunteers and nearby residents who stop by for a quick, close-up search but don’t sign in at the registration desk.

On Friday, the team cleared two more major rappel areas, free divers cleared five pools, the new search dogs from Kaua‘i worked for eight hours and 80 more volunteers walked trails and ridges.

Some of the maps used in the search for Amanda Eller, Friday, May 17, 2019. PC: Debra Lordan

Team organizer Elena Pray said two scent dogs from Kaua‘i are being brought to Maui to assist—the last scent dogs they were able to access in the state. The first arrived on Friday and a second will arrive on Monday.  A recent search utilizing the first dog from Kaua‘i started where Eller’s car was found, with the dog and two handlers conducting long missions from there on Friday. They are staying overnight to continue their work on Saturday.

“One of our big focuses today was clearing the Pi‘iholo ponds, because the more we learn from friends and folks who know her, the more we’re looking at swimming holes and waterfalls, in addition to the original idea of a run or walk in the woods,” said Berquist. “We also filled in a few holes we were showing on our saturation map just hiking and bushwacking.”

Volunteer coordinator and rappeller Elena Pray communicates with lead volunteer Chris Berquist via walkie-talkie with volunteer lead rappeller Javier Cantellops, a former special operations Army Ranger, Friday, May 17, 2019. PC: Debra Lordan

Berquist reiterated that completely filling in the GPS saturation map remains their goal so they can “come as close is as reasonably possible to a guarantee that we haven’t missed her or she’s not there.”

He said, “It could still be that simple and it’s up to us as the community to do the work.”

“You guys are the ones making this happen and it can’t happen with out you.”

“We have people that paid to come on a vacation in Maui, and are spending it up there with us searching, and many of them have even extended their travel plans to stay on and help,” said Berquist.

Volunteers here on vacation have come from as far a Switzerland, as well as Canada, Colorado and the Pacific Northwest.

Volunteers review GPS data from their search on Friday, May 17, 2019. PC: Debra Lordan

But despite enthusiastic participation from hundreds of volunteers who have put in thousands of man-hours since the search began, Berquist said, more are needed.

Berquist said he has been in communication with other search-and-rescue operations around the country who have reported finding missing people 10 days to three weeks later, alive and relatively well, in climates and terrains similar to Upcountry Maui, such as Oregon, Northern California and Alaska—places with far more predators and scarier nights. They find people dehydrated confused, and pretty worn down, but otherwise alive and well.

Outline of today’s search:

The first big party will be sent out at 8 a.m. to check some blank spots on the GPS map in the immediate area.

A copy of the saturation map used to track progress of the search for Amanda Eller, Friday, May 17, 2019. PC: Debra Lordan

Berquist is aiming to put together “a pretty tough team” to go long and far. Participants will need to have an open time schedule, good knees, bush knives and stamina.

“With the time that has elapsed, our distance needs to start increasing, even if it seems kind of far out.”

Berquist still has plenty of places for people with tighter schedules to come search.

Setup starts between 7 and 7:30 a.m. in the gravel parking lot at the top of the hill.

Volunteers are back to pick-up points by 5:30 p.m. and back in the parking lot by 6 p.m.

Volunteers are asked to send their mobile GPS data from their search app as soon as possible so organizers can produce the most up-to-date maps of the areas covered as possible. Participants can send data to [email protected]

What is needed:

Drivers with trucks or SUVs to run groups out and pick them up. It can become a major choke point, especially after 4 p.m. when more groups begin coming back to base camp. Even if you can’t stay all day, Berquist asks these drivers to stop by.

“It can be hard on the search groups when they’re all ready to go and we can’t find a ride to get them out or pick them up,” Berquist said.

FAA-licensed drone pilots only are allowed to operate inside then park.

More volunteers to fill in the GPS map.

Food and water support—”When volunteers come in off the trail after one to six hours of bushwacking and steep hiking, there’s nothing nicer than some cold water, a good sandwich and a brownie from mom—we love the brownies!” said Berquist.

What is not needed:

Dirtbikes and quads are not needed at this time. With the access searchers have been granted to the ranch lands and private pastures, volunteers are only able to use vehicles.

Pet dogs should be left at home as to not distract or interfere with the working scent dogs. “However, if it’s between you coming with your dog, and you not coming, please come. I’ll find somewhere to use you,” said Berquist.

Police Have Established a Hotline and Email for Tips:

The Maui Police Department has set up a direct number to police for the public to call with any and all tips and information about this investigation.

Please call (808)244-6421. You may also email to: [email protected]

Timeline/History:

The 35-year-old physical therapist and yoga instructor was last seen by her boyfriend, who said Eller was meditating when he left for work at around 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday, May 8, 2019.  Surveillance shows Eller mailing a package at the Haʻikū Post Office on Wednesday, May 8, 2019 at approximately 10:19 a.m.

At approximately 12:12 p.m. on Wednesday, May 8, 2019, Amanda’s Toyota Rav4, license plate number LEZ110 was observed within the gravel parking lot near the “Hunter’s Trail” at the Makawao Forest Reserve by off duty Maui Fire Department personnel, who had gone for a hike.

On Thursday, May 9, 2019 at about 7:21 a.m., the Maui Police Department was contacted by Amanda’s boyfriend, Benjamin Konkol, who reported her missing.  Benjamin described several possible locations that Amanda liked to frequent, including the Makawao Forest Reserve.

Konkol has been cleared as a Person of Interest at this time through investigation and voluntarily took a Polygraph Examination, which he passed, according to police.

The Maui Police Department is asking ANYONE who was at the Makawao Forest Reserve on Wednesday, May 8, to contact police.

“It was reported that an early 2000’s model, medium blue Dodge Ram full sized pickup truck, which appeared to be a work truck, was observed parked next to Amanda’s vehicle within the Hunter’s Gate parking lot on May 8th at around 12:12 p.m.  It was also reported that a white Toyota van operated by an older male with two dogs was in the area just prior to the time that Amanda’s vehicle was observed.  Also, a couple in their 30s to 40s, who appeared to be tourists, were observed hiking in the area.”

Police are looking to identify and contact these people for any information they may have.

The search for Amanda Eller continues, Friday, May 17, 2019. PC: Debra Lordan

*Story by Debra Lordan. Maui Now’s Wendy Osher contributed to this report. 

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

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