When embarking on a hike, we usually assume two things: that we’re going to achieve peace of body and mind, and that we’re going to take in heaps of fresh air and sun. We like to think nothing can go wrong, and that the tranquil jaunt won’t turn into a nightmare reminiscent of 2000’s Castaway.
So when Amanda Eller stepped into one of Hawaii’s most dangerous forests, she figured the experience would be a relaxing waltz with Mother Nature. But after a series of bad decisions, her afternoon on the trails turned into a harrowing fight for her life.
It was May 8th, 2019, when 35-year-old physical therapist and yoga instructor Amanda Eller decided to go on a brief walk through Hawaii’s massive Makawao Forest Reserve. It wasn’t exactly a hike for beginners.
Covering more than 2,000 acres, the Makawao Forest Reserve is full of arduous ravines, lava rocks, and interwoven ferns and vegetation that often need to be clobbered with machetes to pass through. In a nutshell, don’t take any wrong turns.
Despite these dangers, Amanda entered the forest solo, leaving her cellphone in her car parked directly outside the reserve. This was her first major mistake.
Because at one point during what was supposed to be a quick three-mile hike, Amanda walked off of the trail to rest. But when she recharged enough of her energy to continue, her gut instinct pulled her in an unfamiliar, and perilous, direction.
Well, her instincts unfortunately led her to the middle of the chaotic forest, without a phone, a sense of direction, or a viable path forward. Fear struck, as all she could do was desperately search for the way to her car.
On that first day, Amanda hiked from 10:30 a.m. to about midnight. One day soon became two, and Amanda faced it with just the clothes on her back. Temperatures dipped to the low 60s. Humidity rose. Frequent rain loomed over the forest. She was in for it.
During day three in the forest, Amanda actively searched for water, knowing her car could wait, but hydration could not. She didn’t know if anyone was searching for her — or if anyone even knew she was missing — so she was forced to try her hand at survival.
But just when Amanda thought things couldn’t get worse, the poor woman fell off of a 20-foot cliff in the midst of the forest. She fractured her leg and tore the meniscus in her knee in the process. Wounded, her situation looked even more grave.
She was losing weight fast, as, besides river water, all she ate were wild strawberry guavas, unidentifiable plants (which is super dangerous, kids), and moths. She was weakening as the days went on, resorting to crawling over walking.
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During the bleak, brisk nights, Amanda kept warm with leaves, ferns, and anything else that could cover her body. She slept in the mud, and during one particular evening, she worked up the nerve to sleep in the den of a wild boar.
What Amanda didn’t know, however, was that people were looking for her. As Amanda eluded the Grim Reaper, a brigade of volunteers searched relentlessly for her. Having found her car containing her phone and wallet, they worried she’d been abducted. Still, they searched on.
In fact, the search team was so devoted to the mission that they killed wild boars to check their intestines for human remains. That’s dedication at its finest. Remains were not found inside any animals, which was promising news.
With rescue efforts going poorly, however, the yoga instructor’s family was so desperate to find her that they announced a $50,000 reward for information regarding Amanda’s whereabouts. Weeks had passed. It all seemed so hopeless.
But less than an hour after her family announced an award, Amanda finally faced a positive development in her situation. On her 17th day in the thick of the forest, she was scavenging for “dinner” near a stream, when she saw a helicopter.
Of the many helicopters she had spotted, this was the only one that finally spotted her. Realizing she was about to be rescued from her own personal hell, Amanda started sobbing tears of relief and joy. She was in bad shape.
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Amanda was 15 pounds lighter, malnourished, filthy, and had leg injuries plus severe burns. But most importantly, she was alive. Calling the horrific experience a “spiritual journey,” she was then airlifted and taken to a hospital, unaware of how close she’d come to never being found.
See, Javier Canetellops, the search coordinator who was in the helicopter, said that Amanda was shockingly found in a “treacherous area,” which was miles from where the team was searching. But he had extra motivation to find her.
It turned out that Cantellops, who did tours of duty in Afghanistan and in Iraq, had known Amanda for three years, as she was his physical therapist. After Amanda had assisted with Cantellops’ broken foot, he felt that he owed her help this time.
Amanda E. Eller
“She has been my home,” he said, equating her to a place of comfort. “That is why when this happened, I got super emotional because she’s been my house and I said ‘I have to find her.'” And find her he did, along with the help of the many other gracious volunteers.
Later, a grateful Amanda said “I am forever indebted and overwhelmed by the amount of people that came out to help me. It was pretty miraculous.” Still, she had a long road to recover ahead of her.
Through it all, she always kept hope, and that’s likely what kept her alive during her unbelievable journey. When hope doesn’t get the job done, however, some lost travelers have turned to an unlikely source to get out of trouble.
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Four-year-old Karina Chikitova lived in a remote Siberian village. There, she shared a small home with her father, mother, grandmother, and her dog, Naida. She was about to get very lost.
See, like most kids her age, Karina was energized by a youthful curiosity, that urge to explore and know and understand. Which was why, in July 2014, she followed her father, Rodion, on an expedition into a part of the Siberian wilderness also known as the taiga.
Now this decision was problematic for a few different reasons. The first reason being that the taiga is very much an animal kingdom, dominated by bears, tigers, and wolves with really sharp teeth and an appetite for people.
The second problem with Karina’s decision was that she had not told her grandmother — the person charged with watching her at the time — that she would be following her dad into the bear-infested wilderness.
In fact, she hadn’t even told her dad that she would be following him. So literally no one on the planet knew that this four-year-old girl was diving headstrong into the most dangerous territory on the planet. No person, at least.
Karina did have a companion at her side: Naida, the family dog. That, evidently, was all the comfort the little girl needed, but it was little comfort to her mother, Talina, when she realized her little girl and the dog were both missing.
At first, Talina figured her youngster and the dog followed Rodion to his native village, but Siberia wasn’t exactly flooded with quality LTE, so she couldn’t pull out a cellphone and check. Instead, she waited to hear from her husband.
In the meantime, Karina, followed her father until she somehow managed to lose his trail. Her dad disappeared from view leaving her very much stranded in Siberia with Naida. And the bears. And the wolves.
It took four days of waiting for mother Talina to learn that, no, her daughter was not with her husband in his home village. No stranger to Siberia, she understood this to be a very bad thing, so she alerted authorities.
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They deployed a 100-person rescue team to head out into Siberian wilds to find her. The team carried rifles to fend off bears (yeah, there were that many bears in the woods).
Helicopters sliced the sky and rescue workers on foot combed through the trees and tall grass, but their search proved fruitless: Karina was nowhere to be seen. But then, nine days after she went missing, authorities found a clue.
More specifically, a clue walked right up to the authorities and introduced herself. Naida returned to her home — but Karina was not with her! What should’ve been a hopeful moment only seemed to confirm Talina’s worst thoughts.
“If she was to hug her puppy,” Talina said, “we thought, ‘this would have given her a chance to…survive.’ So when her dog came back we thought ‘that’s it.’ Even if she was alive — and chances were slim — now she would have definitely have lost all hope.”
But Naida hadn’t just wandered absentmindedly home. She seemed eager to show the desperate family and the rescue crew something important. The dog headed the group of rescuers and led them into the wilderness…
The dog led authorities to a spot in the wilderness, but none of them saw Karina there. Naida, it seemed, couldn’t find the exact area where she’d left the little girl! Authorities wondered if they were anywhere near her at all.
But three days later — 12 days after Karina first went missing — rescue workers spotted a child-sized footprint on a river bed beside a dog’s paw print. The footprint revealed Karina was barefoot, a crucial detail for investigators.
This told rescue workers that Karina likely was not in the woods. Too many sharp sticks there would’ve been a nightmare on her feet. This narrowed their search down considerably, and the following morning, they executed that new search plan.
And sure enough, just 20 meters from where they started searching, one rescue worker noticed a peculiar lump tucked away in a patch of tall grass. The whole crew rushed over.
They found her nestled in the grass. She was starving, thirsty, exhausted, and covered in mosquito bites, but nevertheless alive. They brought her tea before carrying her to a car and whisking her away to the nearest hospital.
The child spent some time in the hospital, but physicians determined there wouldn’t be any lasting damage. A psychologist examined her mental state and found, shockingly, her mind was in a good place. Talk about mental fortitude.
So how did a four-year-old girl survive in the Siberian wilderness? The little girl told reporters and her family that she survived off wild berries and river water.
Then, of course, there was Naida, the lovable canine that gave her warmth at night and companionship in the daytime. The two reunited for the first time back at home when the hospital released Karina. The meeting did not go as expected.
When Karina first saw her dog, she looked her in the eyes and chided, “why did you leave me?” Those three days of solitude must’ve really affected the little girl. But eventually, she came to understand what the dog did for her.
“It was Naida who rescued me,” Karina said sometime later. “I was really, really scared. But when we were going to sleep I hugged her, and together we were warm.”
Karina’s story gripped everyone watching, and locals even erected a statue of the girl and her pooch to celebrate their strength and will to survive. Not bad for a four-year-old and her dog, huh?
In the end, Karina made a full recovery, and by 2018, attended a ballet boarding school 350 miles away from the village she’d wandered away from all those years ago. Her teachers believed she had the talent to compete in Russia’s competitive ballet scene.
“When she just started her classes, Karina was very reserved,” a boarding school leader said. “She has changed so much and became a lot more open, sociable, friendly and independent. She made many friends who love her lots.”
But even as she danced like an expert and earned friends with her exuberant personality, she would never forget the friend that made it all possible: Naida, the loyal canine.