January 18, 2007 10:50 PM PST

Kati Kim describes harrowing week lost in woods

Cold, hunger and fear for the lives of his wife and children had taken a toll on James Kim by the time he left his family to find help.

Stranded in a wilderness for a week with little to eat, James Kim prepared on the morning of December 2 to leave his wife, Kati Kim, and two daughters in order to find help at what he hoped would be a town four miles away, according to report issued Thursday by the Oregon State Sheriffs' Association (OSSA). The group was asked to conduct a review of how the search for the Kims was handled and released its findings on Thursday.

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James Kim, an editor at CNET Networks, and his family became stranded deep in a wilderness area in southern Oregon during a Thanksgiving road trip. Kati Kim and her two daughters were rescued nine days later on December 4, but the body of James Kim was found on December 6. He had died of exposure and hypothermia following a 16-mile hike in ice, snow and water.

Kati Kim was interviewed on Monday by investigators and the OSSA report includes her account of how the family became lost, survived on little food or fuel for fires, and tried to contact rescuers. On December 1, the day before he set out on his own, James Kim frantically attempted to restart a fire after hearing a helicopter nearby but failed because of the wet conditions.

The report also illustrates that the Kims realized very early that there was a chance that they wouldn't be rescued for an extended period and recognized the hazards they faced. They made a pact: "No getting wet. No getting hurt. No getting sick."

A combination of factors led to the family getting lost on the Oregon mountain roads, Kati Kim told investigators. First, the Kims missed several warnings that Bear Camp Road, a route they thought was a shortcut to their destination on the Oregon coast, was hazardous that time of year. A warning saying "Not all Roads Advisable, Check Weather Conditions" was posted in a "tiny box" on the couple's map but they didn't see it until days after they were stranded.

A gas station attendant in Merlin, Ore., gave James Kim "strange directions" and never indicated that the route could be dangerous, Kati Kim said in the report. As they made their way up Bear Camp Road, a snowplow parked near the road made the Kims believe that the road was maintained. Road signs told them that they were headed toward the coast.

Not until they saw a warning sign that read the road may be blocked by snowdrifts were they tipped off they were in trouble, the OSSA report said.

Kati Kim, daughters found

Just after the Kims drove past the sign, it began to snow. At that point, James Kim wanted to turn back, but "Kati thought it was too dangerous" to attempt turning the car around on the narrow road, according to the report.

"Kati was certain that they were going to be headed down the coastal side of the range any minute," the report said.

When the Kims ran into deeper snow, they tried to call 911, but their cell phones were unable to get a signal. The Kims parked the car at a "T" intersection and thought they'd soon be discovered.

The couple decided to remain where they were and use their remaining gas to keep the engine and heater going, Kati recalled in her interview. They were disappointed several times after hearing sounds they thought were snowmobile engines turn out to be the roaring water of the nearby Rogue River.

James Kim found a gate nearby and wrote a letter using his eldest daughter's crayon: "Low on Gas, Low on Food 2 Babies." He then stuck the note in a bag and hung it to the gate, investigators wrote.

CONTINUED: Weather was main foe…
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The car the Kim family was driving is Saab's 1st all-wheel-drive. It was made by Subaru for Saab when GM owned part of Saab and also owned part of Subaru. This Saab is actually a Subaru Impreza. The only difference is the ensignia on the steering wheel and the hood scoop has a slghtly different shape.
I live in the Sierras where we get snowfalls much deeper than the snow the Kims met with. Because of this cars all-wheel-drive the Subaru's we own we never get stuck in the snow, ever. We never use chains and we never get stuck even in 2 to 3 feet of snow. Even on very rough dirt roads, roads much worse than the road the Kims were on.
I simply do not understand why the Kims did not drive back out the same way they came in. James Kim was wise enough to buy one of the worlds best snow cars. The all-wheel-drive car he was driving is better than a Jeep in deep snow, it is even better than a Jeep and my family has owned both.
For the life of me I can not understand why they did not simply drive out. The TV show repeated over and over that they were stranded, but pictures of the car on the TV show clearly show that it was in the middle of a flat and fairly wide road. In the show Kati, the wife, admtted she hadn't driven since high school, and that James did all of the driving.
Was the wife's status as a non-driver a contributing factor to their decision to not drive out?
They had the right car for snow driving, and the pictures of the car clearly show that almost no snow at all was left at the time of rescue. Even during a huge snowstorm I have been able to drive safely (slowly but safely) in over 2 feet of fresh snow with this same type of car. My wife and I can not understand what really happend. We do not understand why the Kims sat immobilized in a car that could easily handle deep snow, without chains. It is obvious from the helicopeter pictures in the TV show that the car was not stuck at all.
What really happened? Why did they simply not drive out the same way they came in? This was a very difficult TV show to watch, especially knowing the capabilities of the car they were driving. It ws doubley hard to watch when the car was shown in the middle of a fairly wide road, with very little snow around by the time it was located.
Even in a bad snowstorm this type of car easilly plows through deep snow, even without chains.
What actually caused them to stay put and put themselves in such danger?
It simple makes no sense.
Posted by phxmotor (2 comments )
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I agree with phxmotor. I got sucked into watching this show and I rarely watch those types of shows. I kept watching partly because I wanted to understand why they didn't just drive back out. I'm sure it's hard for any of us to say what we would do in a confusing situation like that but expecting to be rescued when no one knew where you were just doesn't seem plausible. Maybe we say it was shock or something but I also thought the wife seemed somewhat unemotional about something that must have been extremely emotional. Again, maybe she just holds her emotions in. I don't really think something was suspicious but it leaves too many questions open. I missed some of the show but also don't remember the wife saying that they saw a sign about the danger. Was that left out of the show? That seems strange. I hope there is a good investigation of all of this.
Posted by SH1434 (1 comment )
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This Story Literally Had me in tears, because to me it could have been prevented. I am not passing any judgement on this woman Kati, but I don't think the show should have been labeled "The Kati Kim Story", because she was a lot safer in that car with her children, then her husband going out intot he cold day. This show should have been a dedicated to Mr. James Kim, for his harrowing tragic story, on the pain he indured to save his family. I do believe that he is a true hero. In the 20/20 segment special, when they showed the footage of the car first spotted, The road the family was on looked able to drive on. I know that i would never let my husband walk out intot he cold winter snow storm, under any circumstances! Any fairly smart person knows that without the propper equiptment in that type of extreme weather conditions will be fatal in no time! This man should have turned back after walking two miles in that extreme cold weather. What I dont understand is why he did not walk out the same road they came in? He went completely deep off into the rough ruggid terrain, with no source of warmth! This is soo very tragic for the Kim Family, and I send my complete condolences to his wife and children. I seriously thought he was going to make it out alive. I started busting out crying when I found out he was found deceased in the drainage system of Oregon. If he would have just went back out that road, or stayed in the car with his wife and children, he might be alive today. I am so deeply saddened by this tragedy because I have a two year old son, and when children are involved, as a parent, your brain functions on a completely different level, and this man was a "TRUE HERO", for his beautiful family, and I wish he were still alive, because many people don't understand "WHY" they made such indecisive decisions with two young children. I believe that the truth is that the Kim's were very adventerous people, and that is what ultimately ended her husbands life, he was the "MAN" of the family, and she should have let him make more feasable decisions for them. God Bless this family, and I pray that time brings you peace in knowing that ultimately , he sacrificed his life for his family, and that is the greatest gift that they will ever have. It seems like he was a smart man, but his poor decision making, in a life or death situation ended his life. He decided his fate when his wife said, "he was giong to get help no matter what", she at that point said, " I was worried about my children, and that ws IT", This cost him his life.
Posted by MissyLACOSTE11 (1 comment )
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If the person who called about the tip that the Kims where spotted at Gold beach or near the coast, would've never called then maybe Mr Kim would still be alive. They seemed to call right when he was approaching Bear camp road and the rescuers would have spotted him if they hadn't been ordered to evacuate the area. Bad timing, and they should've had more SAR at night.
Posted by Carmenxtc (1 comment )
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I watched this last night. Many folks have issues w/ this story and I'm no different. one of the biggest problems I have other than the ones repeated is that it seemsJames Kim must've been the submissive type and Kati was calling the shots yet her excuses seem only to distance herself from guilt. in the show Kati makes it serm as if they are surrounded by bears, probably grizzlies. i can't imagine a man leaving his defenseless wife and 2 young kids in grizzly country. That is a huge red flag for me as a man. I can only imagine the wife insisting. he go. Bears are known to detect vulnerability and this is the most vulnerable position I could imagine putting an infant in. it seems kim wouldve turned around after several miles. Kati admits she was the navigator also but it seems James was by himself. I think a lot of the crap kati has got over this is due to appearing to not accept blame, and she doesnt seem to be very upset at all and she also appears to be a few fries short also in regards to common sense. this story actually had me angry at the repeated mistakes and bad decisions ending with the week long wait. before deciding to find help.
Posted by senornlm (2 comments )
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