Finding Amanda: Team Leader Berquist Tells the Story

May 25, 2019, 6:07 PM HST · Updated May 25, 8:08 PM
Debra Lordan · 115 Comments
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Chris Berquist. PC: Debra Lordan

MAUI, HAWAI‘I–Search team leader Chris Berquist’s late-night report in the early morning hours of Saturday, May 25, 2019, was packed with capital letters and cluttered with exclamation points as he expressed happiness and excitement beyond measure regarding the day’s search results.

“BECAUSE THIS COMMUNITY DID NOT GIVE UP WE FOUND HER ALIVE AND WELL!!!!”

Each night after heading up a full-day search involving hundreds of volunteers and a handful of agencies, Berquist sent an email to his team members summarizing the day’s search and outlining plans for the following day.

The late-night/early morning emails always addressed the volunteers as his “new family” and he always signed off as “Chris Berquist—the guy with a beard who talks really loud at everyone.”

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“I’ve never met people as strong and resilient as this family,” Berquist said. “Just this morning [May 24], while a large crew of volunteers, park, DLNR and K-9 searched a different location, I was giving Amanda’s mother, Julia, rappel and ascending lessons so she could join the groups going deeper into the bush to find her baby girl. The strength of people always astounds and amazes me, but these people, you people… speechless, he wrote to the volunteers.”

And regarding Amanda Eller, he said, “She’s a tough cookie.”

“I mean, come on! I’d be painting coconuts and screaming Wilson!” Berquist joked about Ellers’ 17 days in the wilds of Upcountry Maui.

Overwhelming emotions mixed with exhaustion swept over him as he told Maui Now about his experience finding Amanda Eller earlier that day.

Humble, patient and poised throughout the 16-day search, Berquist, who also wrangled with the media in between search tasks, reluctantly spoke with Maui Now about his “job situation.”

Rumor was Berquist was fired for taking time off work to conduct the search.

Berquist said he first volunteered on Sunday, May 12—his day off—when he said he “got pretty involved in the logistics of the search.”

Chris Berquist points to the location where Amanda Eller began her May 8 hike. May 25, 2019. PC: Debra Lordan

Berquist has worked with fire departments, has high-angle rescue training, has been an instructor for vertical rescue skills, and has previously conducted K-9 rescues and search-and-rescues as a volunteer.

“That evening, John Eller asked me if I would stay on and finish the search,” Berquist said. “When the father of a missing girl asks you something like that, you don’t say ‘no.’ So I said, ‘Of course I’ll be there.'”

“So I texted my boss, saying ‘I have a moral dilemma… I really want to be here and do this,” but he acknowledged that he knew there was work to do for his employer.

“He needed me there; he had a schedule to keep and a company to run, so I showed up to work the next morning and worked for a half day—but then there was a meeting scheduled with fire and police and John in the early afternoon,” Berquist said.

So after completing what Berquist called “the important work of the day,” he asked his boss if he could attend the meeting.

Berquist’s employer said it had to be either “the work schedule or her.”

Berquist’s employer said he considered this to be insubordination. “He told me that I could choose between coming out here and staying there and working—so that was a pretty easy choice.”

“It was an easy call.”

As Berquist exited for the meeting, his boss announced that he was fired. Berquist had worked as an arborist until that Monday afternoon…

“I felt that that trees could have waited… they aren’t going anywhere. But no hard feelings—the man has a business to run and I understand that.”

Chris Berquist points to the location where Amanda Eller was found on May 24, 2019. PC: Debra Lordan

Regarding the loss of his job, Berquist, again and as always, focused on the accomplishments and sacrifices of others.

“So many people redid their travel schedules, rebooked plane tickets, they pulled their kids out of school, stopped going to work—so many people gave up just as much if not more than I did,” said Berquist.

“If you didn’t have faith in the community before, you should have it now,” concluded Berquist.

And that is Maui’s Chris Berquist‚ the guy with a beard who talks really loud at everyone—the man who Amanda, the Eller family, Maui and people around the world now regard as a hero.


The remainder of Berquist’s late-night email of thanks to volunteers is as follows:

“I can’t even BEGIN to express how moving this whole effort has been. The depth of the dedication to this group and everyone that helped support it. WE DID IT! With drive and love and perseverance, this community brought her home!

“Can you even imagine how the family must feel? The love they have for each and every one of you?

Chris Berquist explains search map, May 25, 2019. PC: Debra Lordan

“The love and respect that I have for all of you is beyond measure. Even if we started off as strangers helping strangers, we were all close by the end, and we can all smile and cry and laugh together now!

“You have so many new friends! Amanda has so many new friends!!!!! Where else in the world can you find a local community that has hikers who don’t quit, FAA drone pilots, heli pilots, rappellers, free divers, K-9 sniffers, media and data tech experts, local resources like hunters, DLNR, fire, police, EMI, MSAR, KSAR, catering services, jeep clubs, horse teams, quad drivers, dirt bikes, side-by-sides, ranch land access… all right here and all involved!

“Our home! All working tirelessly to bring Amanda home. Makes you proud to be Maui!

“We found Amanda because we did it right. We covered the ground so well that we had little to no doubt that she wasn’t within our reasonable radius. You rallied and pushed further out. Pushed harder. Stretched yourself to the limit and did the work! That is the only reason I could confidently ask for a heli to look further out and try to send our people deeper. Because we did everything we could to make sure that she wasn’t there. Everything. And you did it well. You guys and gals turned that map BLUE!

Thank you again for being such amazing, wonderful, strong people.

So Much Love And Respect!

Chris Berquist‚ the guy with a beard who talks really loud at everyone…

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

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