January 18, 2007 10:05 PM PST

Report highlights mistakes in search for Kims

The official search for James Kim and his family in the Oregon backwoods was plagued by squabbling among police agencies, confusion, indifference and mistakes, a government report released Thursday says.

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 a week 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.

The report from the Oregon State Sheriffs' Association was based on extensive interviews with the Kim family and officials from 10 agencies involved in the search effort. It represents a telling critique of what went wrong during the effort, which the authors say will provide "lessons that we can learn from."

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To be sure, all search and rescue operations are difficult, and the one for the Kim family was complicated by the fact that nobody could narrow the search area until a local mobile provider provided some information on December 2. Until then, searchers had a dizzying array of less-traveled roads to explore in less-than-perfect weather.

Other aspects that worked well, according to a summary of a post-search meeting, were that volunteer searchers were dedicated, air operations experienced no major hiccups, the Red Cross helped out quickly, and only one injury was sustained during the search.

Among the report's findings:

•  Squabbling: Josephine County Search Coordinator Sara Rubrecht and Jackson County Search Manager Pat Rowland didn't get along, which "may have affected communication." In a long-standing feud, Rubrecht claims that Rowland "takes over" everything even inside someone else's county.

•  Poor training: Rubrecht was a "part-time" employee with "limited training" who nevertheless is in charge of managing all aspects of the county's search and rescue operations, including overseeing 100 volunteers. In a December 28 interview with investigators, Rubrecht acknowledged that "she has a checklist of what was required for her duties on the search but she said she did not have time to pull it out."

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The report added: "Rubrecht has not had a performance review for over three years. She does not know what her job expectations are."

•  Indifference: Josephine County Deputy Jason Stanton shares responsibility for overseeing police officers involved in search and rescue efforts and has attended multiple courses on managing search operations. At 9 a.m. on December 1, an operator called him at his house and told him of a missing family. When the operator told him she would note that he was advised of the call, Stanton replied: "Like, wait a minute. You're gonna do that to me?" and told the operator to call Rubrecht instead.

•  Nobody in charge: The Kim family was stranded on the evening of November 25. They were reported missing on November 29. But until midday December 3, when the Oregon State Police took over, "there was no established command." A timeline (click for PDF) shows a confused organizational structure until that time.

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