January 18, 2007 10:50 PM PST
Kati Kim describes harrowing week lost in woods
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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.
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.
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.
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