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Family's ordeal not over after rescue in the snow

December 06, 2006|Sam Howe Verhovek and Lee Romney | Times Staff Writers

GALICE, ORE. — Late on a cold, rainy Saturday night a week and a half ago, James Kim was just trying to get his family to the coast.

After looking at maps, the Internet journalist from San Francisco apparently tried to drive his family along the shortest marked route from here to the Oregon coast -- which turned out to have been a terrible, possibly fatal, decision.

As his wife and two young daughters recovered from a nine-day ordeal -- stranded in snow in the family Saab station wagon near a little-used logging road in the Siskiyou National Forest in southwestern Oregon -- Kim remained missing Tuesday.

This was three days after the 35-year-old man set out from the car in a desperate bid to seek rescue for his family, which had been on a holiday road trip and bound for a seaside lodge in southwestern Oregon when it became lost in the freezing wilderness.

Out of gas, the family burned the tires to keep warm and, out of food, Kati Kim, 30, drank snowmelt and nursed her daughters, Penelope, 4, and Sabine, 7 months, according to an account she gave authorities.

Searchers in a helicopter spotted Kati Kim waving an umbrella Monday afternoon in the wilderness. She and her daughters were airlifted to a hospital and will survive, though Kati Kim's parents said she may lose a toe to frostbite.

But the searchers have been unable to locate her husband, who had set out in tennis shoes, two pairs of pants, two shirts and a parka, but without a hat. He has apparently shed one pair of pants -- possibly a sign he is trying to attract rescuers, possibly a sign he has hypothermia-induced dementia.

James Kim's position in the Internet community propelled the saga of the missing family into homes all over the world, through a website launched by close friends; online reports by, where Kim is a senior editor; and other Internet sites. By Tuesday, thousands of people from as far away as Japan, Iceland and Argentina were following the search.

The successful rescue of Kati Kim and the couple's daughters came in part through the efforts of those onlookers, especially an Oregon cellphone engineer who tracked two one-second hits to the family's cellphone and helped rescuers refine their search.

As the search for Kim continued Tuesday evening, Josephine County Undersheriff Brian Anderson said, "This is frustrating -- we are so close. There are people pouring their heart and soul into this. We are not going to quit until we find him."

However the Kims' harrowing episode draws to a close, it serves as a stark reminder that here, not too many miles off of Interstate 5, it is possible to disappear very quickly into the forest.

"You look at this map, and you can see what they were probably thinking," said Lee Jago, a volunteer at the counter of the Grants Pass Chamber of Commerce, pointing to the black ribbon of Forest Service road that connects this area with the coast, at least on a map.

"But we would never tell people to take this road at this time of year," Jago said. "It's a treacherous way to go in the best of circumstances."

"It's not a good way to go in winter conditions," Anderson said. "You're not going to make it."

Still, if Kim had kept along the main Forest Service road over the coastal range, he would have hit a stretch of impassable snow and probably turned around. Somehow, however, he got stuck on an even more remote, single-lane secondary logging road, possibly as he was trying to backtrack onto a larger road. The spot where his wife and daughters were found is at an elevation of about 3,000 feet.

The search was apparently delayed by at least a few crucial days because the Kims weren't thought to be missing at first -- it was assumed that the family was on its planned vacation at the Tu Tu Tun Lodge along the Rogue River in Gold Beach, on the Oregon coast.

Charlene Wright, 26, is the manager of one of the two boutiques that the Kims own and Kati Kim runs. By Nov. 29, she called police to say that the family had failed to return home as planned.

Wright described Kati Kim as a creative designer who is always dreaming up items for the boutiques and finding the right people to produce them. She described James Kim as "a kind of wonderman" who combined his work and helping his wife with the stores. Both, she said, are a joy to be around.

Trace left in Roseburg, Ore.

By Friday, the missing-family case had been well-publicized in the Bay Area and here in southern Oregon, where the last trace of their whereabouts authorities found was a credit-card transaction Nov. 25 for an evening meal at a Denny's along I-5 in Roseburg, Ore.

From Roseburg, the quickest way to the Kims' destination along highways would be Oregon State 42 to the coast and then U.S. 101 south to Gold Beach, perhaps a three-hour trip.

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