Seventy-eight-year-old Duane Ose – the man who sold his Alaska hideaway on a British reality TV show only to try to steal it back – was in the Fairbanks hospital Tuesday night after being rescued from the wilderness, apparently by the Alaska National Guard.
Details were sketchy, but his daughter said by telephone from Fairbanks Memorial Hospital that her father had been airlifted by a military Pavehawk helicopter about 8 p.m., after having reportedly broken his back and spent 10 days on a cot in the three-story house near remote Minchumina Lake on a high point he called “Ose Mountain.”
The rescue at Ose Mountain began unfolding late Tuesday afternoon when a Fairbanks helicopter pilot who’d been chartered to fly supplies to Ose Mountain for the elderly Bushrat and his new and considerably younger wife arrived at the couple’s wilderness airstrip tens of miles from nowhere to find it deserted.
Ose’s daughter, Carol Hansen, said the pilot then hiked to the cabin to find Ose on the cot unable to move and his internet-order bride distraught. The pilot notified Alaska State Troopers, and search and rescue operations were begun.
Hansen said she did not know what condition her father was in late Tuesday, but she was hopeful he would be OK.
“I’m still sitting in the ER,” she said. “I have not talked to any doctors yet. The troopers are talking to my dad right now. The pilot who saw him, he said he (my dad) was going to live.”
A strange love story
Ose’s bride – the former Ellie Mae Blair, also previously know as Eleanor White and Eleanor Ribera – was also admitted to the hospital, Hansen said, but the reasons why were unclear.
She was thought to have somehow injured her ankle and/or hip.
“She was keeping the house warm with whatever wood she could find,” Hansen said, but the couple had apparently been eating cold food because Ellie Mae couldn’t cook anything on the wood stove.
Temperatures in the Lake Minchumina area near the northern boundary of Denali National Park and Preserve in the heart of Alaska were dropping down into the teens last week.
Hansen said the couple did not have a satellite phone with them on which to call for help. The Ose Mountain cabin does have two satellite modems that make it possible to connect to the internet, but Ellie Mae was unable to figure out how to connect them, Hansen said.
Duane had apparently been bedridden for 10 or 11 days and was unable to help. He has a history of heart problems and is a cancer survivor.
Robert Altman of Fairbanks, a long time friend of Duane’s, said he saw the old man leaving the Fred Meyer shopping center in that city just before the couple left for the wilderness earlier in the month.
“He was walking very, very slowly and had to stop and rest, but walked almost all the way to the hotel,” Altman reported. “Then she stopped and picked him up and drove him across the street.”
Altman said he was troubled by what he saw. Duane, or someone writing on his Facebook page, had earlier reported Ellie Mae had him on a fitness program to get back into shape.
Duane was living in Minnesota, his home state and the residence of his daughter, before hooking up with Ellie Mae on the internet. After that he cleared out and flew north to meet her in Fairbanks, where, according to his Facebook page, they got married.
Hansen, who flew to Fairbanks to talk to her father, said she doesn’t know what will happen next.
“They don’t have a house here,” she said. “They don’t have a place to go.”
And Hansen doesn’t see Ellie Mae as much help in dealing with her ailing, blind in one eye father.
“She’s crazy,” Hansen said. Others have said worse of Ellie Mae.
Hansen said she is hopeful Alaska authorities can talk some sense into her dad. She is expecting troopers to charge him with trespass for moving back into the house he legally transferred to an English couple who won it in the BBC show “Win the Wilderness: Alaska.”
For participating in the show and signing over the title to the three-story log cabin with no running water, Hansen said Duane and then-wife Rena, who helped him build the cabin, were paid in six figures.
They promptly retired to Minnesota to be near family and better health care. Rena died not long after while undergoing heart surgery. A bereaved Duane turned to the internet and met Ellie Mae.
She convinced him to meet her in Fairbanks and things just got weirder from then on.
Some friends and family believe she married Duane thinking he didn’t have long to live, and she could collect the inheritance. Duane, who has not responded to requests for an interview, pushed back angrily against such suggestions on his Facebook page.
And Ellie Mae did apparently keep the Ose Mountian cabin warm enough that Duane didn’t die of hypothermia.
Still, Hansen isn’t sure of her father’s mental competence anymore and is hopeful doctors in Fairbanks will be able to determine his ability to make rational decisions. The family worries that if he goes into the wilderness again it could be for the last time because though once a highly capable woodsman, he is now old and frail.
“For us, this may be a blessing in disguise,” Hansen said.