Maui News

Day 12: Search for Amanda Eller Expands Into Rougher Terrain

May 20, 2019, 11:15 AM HST
* Updated May 21, 5:01 AM
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Search map key: The yellow circle represents a 4-mile circumference (2-mile radius) centered on the parking lot where Amanda Eller’s car was found on Thursday, May 9, 2019. Red lines are tracking dogs; blue lines are volunteer searchers; green lines are drones. May, 19, 2019. PC: Debra Lordan

The search team’s new interactive app-to-screen system has “really changed the game.” PC: Debra Lordan

MAKAWAO, Maui–Team leader Chris Berquist described for Maui Now the Makawao Forest Reserve search for Amanda Eller on Sunday, May 19, 2019, and outlined search plans for the future. She has been missing for 12 days—since Wednesday, May 8.

As can be seen on the map, pins are dropped at the location of “anything of interest.” A slide mark, and a shovel and an axe were found on Sunday. Although that sounds alarming in relation to a lost hiker, it was determined that these were trail maintenance tools, according to Berquist. Wheel barrows, rakes and more shovels were also found—all related to mountain bike trail maintenance, he said.

“We are absolutely checking every single one,” said Berquist.

“If it were your family member missing, I can’t imagine that you would settle for anything less. And you aren’t. You have the drive, you have the ability and you have the heart. Let finish this together.”

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As the areas close to base camp fill in, searchers are moving further out. The rougher terrain calls for a more demanding search.

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The terrain of the yet unsearched areas is quite difficult, Berquist said. Very strong hikers are needed for some of these remaining locations.

On Sunday, May 19, 2019, a crew of 98 volunteers put in 498 man hours of searching searching for Eller.

“Absolutely every single person rose to a particularly strong set of challenges today and not one of you gave an inch. Not one,” Berquist wrote in a late-night report.

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The terrain that had not been searched as of Sunday morning was some of the roughest on the island.

“You guys get sent out into some of the heaviest terrain this island has to offer, with nothing but a dot, each other and an unstoppable drive to find Amanda,” said Berquist. “And when you get back to the parking lot, all you want is more. The sheer power of it brought me to tears today.”

The search team’s new interactive app-to-screen system has “really changed the game.” PC: Debra Lordan

Berquist noted that their search saturation map is getting filled in at an unbelievable rate. Their new interactive app-to-screen system the volunteers have incorporated has “really changed the game.”

Berquist said he no longer has to wait for a copy center to open, or wait days for maps to get printed. They no longer have to wait for them to be transported to the central operations search camp.

Thanks to this software and hardware, data is updated by the minute and overlaid onto the most accurate satellite image they have available so they can determine whether or not the area has been searched—within meters of accuracy.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” said Berquist. “It lets us see everything we have covered—and it lets us see everything we have left to cover.”

A few of the 11 hunting dogs used on the search on May 19, 2019. PC: Debra Lordan

Searchers have almost entirely saturated a 2-mile radius, all the way out to Awalau and all the way down the pond system. Volunteers started checking the outlying forest areas and rechecked areas where they may have missed something.

Javier Cantellops, and Troy Helmer and Robert Bonacorsi, owners of the hunting dogs, discuss the day’s search on May 19, 2019. PC: Debra Lordan

Javier Cantellops, a former special operations Army Ranger, is the team’s best hunting consultant. He ran a pack of 11 dogs with their owners, Troy Helmer and Robert Bonacorsi, all the way out to ‘Ōpana Gulch area and up and down the forest. Cantellops, the dogs and their owners,  searched for 11 hours—from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m—covering about 10 miles, according to the hunters.

“They covered ground that I could never ask you to go and check—areas that are so far out and/or so treacherous that I wouldn’t be doing my job if I put people out there,” said Berquist. “But these guys… this is what they do. And they do it well.”

Plan for Monday, May 20:

The plan remains the same—to keep filling in the saturation map “until we can confidently say that we have searched the reasonable area, and that we have searched it well,” Berquist said. “We’re going for total saturation of these areas.”

A few teams will also check some of the other parks in the immediate area.

What is needed:

More volunteers: “We still have blank spots to fill in so I still need your help,” said Berquist. “I say it every day and I’ll keep saying it. It doesn’t happen without you.”

“You may not think that one person may matter much, but as the guy trying to put out teams of four to 16 people, please believe me—each and every one of you and all of your unique skill sets, your knowledge and your drive are what are allowing us to continue the overwhelmingly strong search for Amanda.”

Food: “From the cute little kids who brought us sandwiches and brownies to the small local restaurants donating lunches, and from the people making us coffee… to the uncle who brought us coolers of ice and the family that brought cases of gatorade and water… all are needed and appreciated,” Berquist said. Current needs include sandwiches and wraps—especially breakfast wraps and sandwiches. They are currently stocked up on their supply of water, gatorade, chips, bars, oranges and apples. They are all out of brownies, however, a volunteer favorite.

Drivers: “I know that you may have to sit around for a bit, but it’s pure magic when I get a call for a pickup. It really helps us make the most of our hikers time and energy.”

FAA-certified drone pilots: While there’s not always a flight plan ready, Berquist said it is invaluable when the team reports an area that needs a drone check, and he has a pilot on stand-by. “It’s just one more tool in the box that is making this such a well-covered search area and I can’t do that without you.”

What is not needed:

Pet dogs. The team’s scent and search dogs do not need added distractions. Again, if it’s between you bringing you dog, and you not coming at all, Berquist encourages you to come. He can always find somewhere appropriate to use your abilities.

A word of caution:

Drive slowly and cautiously through the residential area leading to the reserve. Neighbors in the area are being very supportive, but they have asked volunteers to slow down.

History/Background

During a press conference, organized by volunteers on Sunday, May 12, 2019, Eller’s boyfriend said he was the last person to see Eller, and that she was meditating when he left for work at around 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday, May 8, 2019.

Maui police say surveillance shows the 35-year-old physical therapist and yoga instructor mailing a package at the Haʻikū Post Office on the day she went missing at approximately 10:19 a.m.

At approximately 12:12 p.m. on Wednesday, May 8, 2019, police say 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 Eller’s live-in boyfriend who reported Eller missing and described several possible locations that Amanda liked to frequent, including the Makawao Forest Reserve, according to police.

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

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. The telephone hotline is (808) 244-6421, or tips may also be emailed to police at [email protected].

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

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