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Day 13: ‘Let’s Keep This Search Going’

Volunteers check out the most recent search map date, May 18, 2019. PC: Debra Lordan

MAKAWAO, Maui–Team leader Chris Berquist described for Maui Now the Makawao Forest Reserve search for Amanda Eller to date, and outlined search plans for the coming days. Eller has been missing now for 13 days—since May 8.

Volunteers conducted 210 search hours on Monday, May 20, 2019; the GPS search saturation map is continuing to fill in.

On Monday, a second dog team relieved the team from Kaua‘i that has worked for the past two days.

“Those guys covered some serious ground,” said Berquist.

The new dog started working further out from the center point of the search to help establish a new outer edge for their “reasonable boundary.”

The Maui Police Department is also bringing a search-and-rescue dog on Tuesday to help clear some of the lower area on the map where human volunteers aren’t going to be as effective.

But the team still has a few spots in the immediate area to clear and they are going to be putting a lot of energy into clearing the Waihou Spring Trail area.

Based on what was left in the car (phone, water, wallet), searchers believe that she may be “reasonably close.”

[1]

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

“We feel it would be foolish not to clear it,” said Berquist.

Plans include continuing use use of infrared (FLIR) paired with the helicopter to scan the forest pushing out to Ha‘ikū and Hāna.

“We believe this is going to be one of our most effective tools for extending our search boundary in the known area,” said Berquist. “These FLIR (Forward Looking InfraRed) units are accurate enough to find bee hives from 1,300 feet out.

Although the official search had been called off, Berquist said many agencies are participating in or supporting the search, including the Maui Police Department, Maui Fire Department, East Maui Irrigation, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, the National Park Service, Maui County Department of Water Supply, Maui Search and Rescue, Kaua‘i Search and Rescue, as well as all of the ranch managers and owners who have been accommodating and cooperative.

[2]

Volunteers check out the most recent search map date, May 18, 2019. On the right is Amanda Eller’s brother, Chris. PC: Debra Lordan

“We need to keep this search going,” said Berquist. “When we just stick to the facts, and leave the conjecture and hypotheses at the door, we still have a missing girl in the woods and no facts to point in any other direction… We can’t solve the unsolvable, but we can find people in the woods, of that I am confident.”

“… we have no intention of stopping any time soon… lets keep hammering out the search zone,” said Berquist.

“It’s really allowed us to get things done quickly and efficiently and without the fuss of inter-department bureaucracy,” Berquist said.

Berquist said in a previous interview that 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.

Plan for Tuesday, May 21:

[3]

Volunteer searchers stop for a food break, May 18, 2019. PC: Debra Lordan

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:

[4]

Team coordinator and rappeller Elena Pray gears up for the day’s search on May 18, 2019. PC: Debra Lordan

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.”

Rappellers: A lot of the terrain in the immediate area is steep and not very safe for your average volunteer. Rappellers comfortable in a harness with a figure 8 are needed.

Food: Current needs include sandwiches and wraps—especially breakfast wraps and sandwiches. They are all out of brownies, as well.

Drivers: Drivers are needed to stand by to pick up tired hikers throughout the day and at the end of the day.

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 standby.

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.

 

Amanda Eller. PC: Sarah Haynes / Findamanda Facebook page.

History/Background [5]

During a press conference [6], organized by volunteers on Sunday, May 12, 2019, Eller’s boyfriend [7] said he was the last person to see Eller [8], 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 [9] at the Haʻikū Post Office [9] 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 [10] 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] [11].

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