Somewhere in the midst of a three-mile hike in Hawaii that turned into a 17-day "fight for her life," as the New York Times puts it, Amanda Eller says that "it came down to life and death—and I had to choose. I chose life," she tells People. "I wasn't going to take the easy way out. Even though that meant more suffering in me for myself." Clad only in a thin tank top and capris in temperatures that hit the low 60s at night, forcing her to sleep in mud or cover herself in leaves, Eller survived on fresh fruit, river water, and whatever else she could find to eat. When rescuers found her Friday, she was malnourished, dirty, sunburnt, had lost her shoes in a flash flood, and had a broken leg and torn meniscus she suffered in a 20-foot fall.
"The whole time I was going deeper into the jungle, even though I thought I was going back where I came from," she tells the Times. She occasionally saw the helicopters that were searching for her, but it wasn't until Friday that one spotted her. "I looked up and they were right on top of me," she said. "I was like, 'Oh my God,' and I just broke down and started bawling." That helicopter was there on a lark, notes the Times, with rescuers having deviated from the central search area. "We all did a double-take," search coordinator Javier Canetellops says. "Where we found her is an extremely treacherous area." (Read more hikers stories.)