Aged Alaska mountain man Duane Ose has been discharged from a Fairbanks hospital and is now on Facebook looking for help and railing against those who rescued him from deep in the wilderness of the frozen Interior.
Old friends from Fairbanks say the behavior appears strangely out of character for the 78-year-old trapper and woodsman who made a second life for himself as a tough, independent homesteader in one of the state’s remotest corners.
In one of several Facebook posts, Ose – or someone writing on his page – new claims he was abandoned in the wilderness by the helicopter pilot who flew Ose and new wife, Ellie Mae, to Ose’s old homestead near Minchumina Lake in mid-October.
This would be the same pilot who most believe saved the old man’s life by summoning rescuers after later discovering Ose bed-ridden in his chilly, one-time home in the fast-freezing heart of the bitterly cold 49th state. Duane and Ellie Mae were then squatting in the three-story house Duane and his late wife, Rena, sold to a British couple as part of a 2019 reality TV deal.
Duane later decided he was swindled out of the house and made a decision to move back into the cabin in the belief he and Ellie Mae could in that way reclaim it. Enter a charter helicopter pilot from Fairbanks, almost 100 miles north of the “Ose Mountain” homestead.
“The pilot was paid cash in advance, as requested, but DID Not do safety or working checks on solar power, battery banks, internet, communications working and supplies,” claims the Ose Facebook post quoted here exactly as written. “…we were dropped with three appointment times for addl checkins and supplies but our first supplies: FOOD for us was not brot with us on this first trip, the other dates for pickup were missed, The pilot was aware of who we would reach out to if there were any addl needs and told that in the event of any non-communication or internet failure to come back for us immediately.”
Air charters are the taxis of Alaska. The pilots who fly them are not normally in the business of cabin maintenance. This pilot, according to Duane’s daughter, was hired to drop the newlywed Oses at the house in mid-October and deliver supplies and/or pick them up about a week later.
Bad weather, a common problem in Alaska in October, delayed his return for a couple of days, and when he finally showed up he found Duane immobile in bed with Ellie Mae reporting the old man had fallen and broken his back. The pilot summoned rescuers and a U.S. Army helicopter from Fairbanks eventually arrived to pick up both Duane and Ellie May and deliver them to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital.
There has been no display of thanks from either of them which Duane’s old Fairbanks friend Peggy Billingsley, among others, finds hard to fathom.
“Duane took great pride in his military service and would have given much respect to his rescuers,” she messaged. “He loved the military. He also loved docs and nurses and always gave them strong shoutouts. Not a word about any of them. God, I’m writing about him in the past tense. But it’s like he is dead.”
Billingsley – like most of Duane’s old Fairbanks friends plus his family and extended family Outside – think Duane is under the spell of 60-year-old Ellie Mae, who met Duane online shortly after his late wife, Rena died.
Duane has not responded to requests for an interview. Neither has Ellie Mae, who appears to have gone by several other names in the past, and who posts on Facebook as Eleanor Ribera.
Her profile, however, still says she is living in Peru and from Bogotá, Colombia, though she grew up in Wisconsin where her father still lives. In a self-produced, YouTube video linked on the Facebook page, she also identifies herself as “Ms. Ellie White” who “died and went to heaven.”
Her Facebook page is dominated by odd religious posts, but there are also photos that have been cross-posted to Duane’s page, including one of Ribera/Blair/Whit in a bikini on a sandy beach clearly not in Alaska.
The same photo dated the same day appears on Duane’s personal page with a different caption.
Another post on Ribera’s Facebook page would clearly appear to have been meant for Duane’s page:
“Keep the prayers coming my brothers,” it says. “These women Carol, Amber and Susie are HUGE demons that wreak havoc and destroy my whole life… evil and evil women who steal my books and pictures and then say bad things to the people who write as it is me….. and threatening to kill me, to drive home and destroy me, and threatening to arrest me for NOT talking to them to answer 50000 phone calls and 300 text messages per day and tell others that I write nasty mail 3000 letters before the day… i dont want anything… just be haters. evil demon haters taking from the scripture I want to do.. from writing sermons and words of encouragement to others.. to try to save as many as we can. ….. right??”
Carol is Duane’s daughter Carol Hansen. Amber Rae Ose is married to a son of Duane’s brother; she in 2014 set up the Facebook page “Ose Mountain Alaska” to promote several books Duane has written about life in the Alaska wilderness.
It was on the Ose Mountain page that Rae in mid-September reported Duane had cut off contact with family. She then urged people to go to Duane’s personal page and ask for “a live video made by him (to) be posted so that all of his followers can see that he is OK.
“All posts made on his personal page are not from him but of this ‘Eleanor Ribera.’ We fear she has bad intentions.
“The recent ‘religious’ posts on Duane’s Facebook page are not posts that he would personally write. Duane has never been known to be a religious person on FB. Many people are very concerned for him. We fear we may never see or hear from the true Duane Ose again….His book publisher is very worried as well. No contact has been made in weeks….”
The relationship between Duane’s family Outside and the newlyweds in-country has only worsened since then with accusations from both sides burning up Facebook. Hansen, who flew to Fairbanks to see her father after he was rescued, said she and Ribera, who was also in the hospital with undisclosed medical problems, did not talk.
Hansen reported spending about an hour in conversation with her father on the night he was rescued. She said that when she returned to the hospital to see him again the next morning, she was told he was not accepting visitors. COVID-19 pandemic restrictions prevented her from going into the hospital to see what was going on, and so she flew back to Minnesota.
“I just received a call from Fairbanks Memorial Hospital,” she emailed a couple of days later. “My dad is in the process of being released. The finance office at the hospital was given permission from my dad to call me. They told me that Eleanor was kicked out of the Holiday Inn Hotel and they have no money. My dad wanted to know if I would pay for a hotel room if they found another location. I asked her to tell my dad to call me. I haven’t heard from him and suspect she is ordering him to ask anyone who has money to help him.”
Hansen was hopeful Alaska Adult Protective Services might pull her father away from Blair/Ribera/White, but they did not. Hansen believes state officials did talk to her father, but nothing happened.
Legally, there appears little the agency can do. As its website notes, “Adult Protective Services helps to prevent or stop harm from occurring to vulnerable adults. Alaska law requires that protective services not interfere with the elderly or disabled adults who are capable of caring for themselves.
“Alaska law defines vulnerable adults as a person 18 years of age or older who, because of incapacity, mental illness, mental deficiency, physical illness or disability, advanced age, chronic use of drugs, chronic intoxication, fraud, confinement, or disappearance, is unable to meet the person’s own needs or to seek help without assistance.”
“Mental deficiency” can be a hard condition to identify. It is legally defined as “a person so afflicted (he) is incapable of managing himself and his affairs.”
Hansen described a reasonable conversation with her father in Fairbanks though she said he did seem confused at times. But he was rational enough to explain to her that a lot of people seemed to be trying to break up his relationship with Blair/Ribera/White and that the couple would need to hire help to support them if they moved back to the house at Ose Mountain as they plan.
The three-story structure is tens of miles from nowhere to the west of where the body of Chris McCandless, destined to become the hero of the novel “Into the Wild,” was found in 1992 in a bus deserted next to a long-abandoned road overgrown with brush. The surrounding country is no more developed or friendlier today than it was then.
McCandless died of starvation in Alaska’s warmer months. The area is now heading into the season when temperatures sometimes drop to 50-degrees below zero and a mountain of firewood is needed to keep warm a cabin far removed from the luxuries of electricity and running water.
Duane appears to understand this. The top of his Facebook page today advertised “Need 8 men2 fix damage wood cut 4wd SnoCat elec solar battery Int deck Apply-Box 60424 AK 99706.”
Caught in the middle of the Ose saga are English sheep farmers Emily Pacfield and Mark Warner, the present owners of the Ose Mountain cabin.
Shortly before Rena’s death, she and Duane signed the homestead over to the Warwickshire, England couple after they finished the winners in a BBC, reality TV competition titled “Win the Wilderness: Alaska.”
Family members said Duane and Rena, both of whom had health problems, made enough money off the deal to retire to Redwood, Minnesota, near where Duane grew up and where he has family. Just months after arriving there, 76-year-old Rena died due to complications from heart surgery.
Looking for love, Duane turned to the internet and met the woman he calls Ellie May Blair but is otherwise known as Ribera.
She, according to Ose family members, suggested a Fairbanks rendezvous to meet each other. Not long after that, the two reported on Duane’s Facebook page that they had married.
The fight over ownership of Ose Mountain followed with someone, apparently Ribera/Blair/White, using Duane’s Facebook page to later describe Ellie-Mae’s heroism after the couple was supposedly abandoned at Ose Mountain:
“This Duane.. or this is not DuANE HE SPELLS MUCH better/ or much worse – – – we are both Weak from the very scary ordeal of no Food and no heat and Ellie crawled in the snow to get sticks to burn and fed me pwd milk and eggs and ate nothing for herself, giving me all water til she finally had one glass at day 6…NO NONSENSE will be tolerated. and YES Being rescued by a HUGE military chopper and Ellie’s signal fires, she did more for me than all of my ‘relatives’ combined and WE will give glory to God in all things, especially for our rescue.”
“Those posts aren’t Duane,” Billingsley said. “He may be in the background adding a word here and there, but those posts are all her. It’s the instability of emotions that completely give it away. She’s volatile.
“Rena would have kicked both their asses. He has completely dishonored her memory and while I’d like to blame Ellie 100 percent, I can’t. He has ignored reason and sound counsel from friends and family and has to take responsibility for dishonoring Rena’s memory.”
There are reports the “sticks” Ribera/Blair/White burned were actually floorboards she ripped up in the cabin, and old Alaska hands have wondered why – if she was crawling through the snow – she didn’t fill a couple of pots with the white stuff to put on top of the stove. Melting snow or ice is the traditional way of making water in what Alaskans call a “dry” cabin, ie. one lacking running water.
Where the new Mr. and Mrs. Ose are living at this time is unknown, but hopefully somewhere indoors. The temperature in Fairbanks dropped to minus-26 this morning.
Hansen, who has stood by her father through this, said she is reluctant to do anymore to help for fear that will just enable a continuation of what is going on. She remains hopeful Alaska authorities will do something, but there appears little hope of that.
The system is simply not equipped to deal with situations such as this. Duane and Ribera/Blair/White, for their part, appear to be putting their faith in God.
“So please know WE will continue to give God all the Glory alone for our Rescue and to those who are offended we will say a prayer for your soul and then we will delete you,” their Facebook post says. “Much Love to all our very loyal and true Family and Friends. Please Pray for our continued strength and a speedy Court supplied deed since mark and Emily are faux in trying to resolve anything and could either return my deed or face huge costs for obstinance. Thank you to you all. Please keep Praying for me and Ellie my wife.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misidentified Amber Rae Ose.