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Missing California family found in Oregon wilderness, father dies

Searcher: Father's final effort 'heroic'
Area pilot's knowledge aided rescue of mother, two young children

Mail Tribune
by Anita Burke
December 7, 2006

Jackson County searchers mourned the San Francisco man they had spent days seeking in an intensive, multi-agency search in the mountains west of Grants Pass, calling James Kim a hero for his efforts to get help for his family.

"When you find remains, you have to grieve a little," said Randy Jones, a Rogue Valley builder who volunteers to lead the county's searches by helicopter. "These people become part of you as you give of your time."

Jones flew several search flights over the remote region and coordinated Tuesday's aerial efforts, including fetching possessions from the Kims' car and lowering a Jackson County deputy into the steep Big Windy Creek drainage to collect scattered items authorities believed James Kim had left as a signal to searchers. Jones was back in his office Wednesday and didn't participate in recovery efforts.

"This man's desire to live and save his family was heroic," Jones said.

Kim, his wife, Kati, and their two daughters, Penelope, 4, and Sabine, 7 months, got stranded on a remote road off winding Bear Camp Road Nov. 25. They had spent Thanksgiving in Seattle, visited friends in Portland and planned to spend the night in Gold Beach on their way home to San Francisco. Friends and co-workers reported them missing last week and a widespread search in Southern Oregon started Friday.

John Rachor, a Central Point pilot with 30 years' experience, saw a Mail Tribune story about the missing family and decided he had to go look for them.

"I know that area pretty well," said Rachor, who has a cabin in Agness and flies or drives over the route frequently. "And I've got a pair of grandkids about the same ages as those girls. I thought about those kids and I would have looked all winter for them."

Knowing that the twisting route leading from Bear Camp Road down to Black Bar Lodge is an easy wrong turn to make, he focused his search there. Monday afternoon, he spotted Kati Kim running up and down the road near the family's silver Saab station wagon and waving an umbrella to attract his attention. An SOS message had been stomped into snow nearby.

"The visibility is so narrow on that road the chances of finding them were slim," Jones said. "No other searchers had gotten down that far, but John knew that canyon," and his small helicopter could slip in to search.

Rachor radioed the command center and a larger Carson helicopter hired by the Kim family went in to get Kati and the girls.

Both Jones and Rachor helped track James Kim's footprints through the snow. He had left his wife and children at the car Saturday to seek help.

Jones said Kim apparently walked along the road for four or five miles. Then, his tracks crossed paths with a big black bear headed downhill across the road. Jones speculated that Kim headed down the steep ravine to avoid the animal, which appears to have followed him.

Kim hiked several more miles in the Big Windy Creek drainage.

"Those were the toughest miles anyone could traverse," Jones said. "I doubt any human has ever walked in there before him."

He described the rugged territory as "virgin wilderness," with old-growth trees towering more than 200 feet high, heavy brush, fallen logs and boulders, as well as cliffs walling the creek in some areas.

Searchers working their way down the drainage Tuesday discovered a spare pair of pants that Kim had left in what they hoped was a sign for them. From the air, teams spotted a collection of clothing and Jones helped coordinate lowering a Jackson County SWAT team deputy 200 feet down a rope to collect them.

"Those were not there Monday," Jones said. "He was still on the move Tuesday."

The deputy collected two gray sweatshirts, a red T-shirt, a wool sock, a blue girl's skirt and pieces of an Oregon map, and saw where someone had slept on the ground, Jones said.

With darkness approaching, the deputy had to return to the helicopter, Jones said.

"You have to be safety conscious," he said. "Everybody is putting themselves at risk to help others like this. We were so close to getting him, just hours or short days."

He said it's easy for searchers to beat themselves up, questioning what more they could have done.

"As search and rescue teams, the operative word is rescue," Jones said. "Every fiber of all 100 of us involved in this wanted to find this person alive. That's what we work for.

"This isn't a job, even for those who get paid. It is a passion."

Two of Jones' first rescue missions with Jackson County turned into body recoveries and he wavered in whether search and rescue was something he wanted to do.

"You have to be careful not to play head trips on yourself," he said.

But it also filled a deep need in him. Once a troubled kid who found people to reach out and encourage him, he wanted to stretch out a helping hand to others in need, he explained. And nowhere was need more immediate and apparent than the calls for help that search and rescue teams hear each year from lost hunters, elderly couples stranded by rising floodwaters or kids swept down raging rivers.

Jackson County didn't have its own aerial search capabilities before Jones joined the team four years ago, but he thought he had the skills and resources to add that tool.

Now he's encouraging Rachor, who has searched on a freelance basis, to join the team, too.

"This helps fulfill my passion to help those in need," Jones said. "We are a team there to help whoever is in harm's way in our area, no matter who they are."



Father of James Kim expresses his concerns about the Oregon search

The Lessons In My Son's Death
By Spencer H. Kim
Saturday, January 6, 2007

Early last month my son, James Kim, died of hypothermia in a snowy wilderness in Oregon after setting out on foot to seek help for his family, who were stranded in a car.

My son's death was a tragedy that could have been prevented. A wrong turn on a poorly marked wilderness road need not have resulted in the ordeal of James's wife and two daughters, nor his death while trying desperately to find help. I am sharing some of the hard-learned lessons that I took away from my family's trauma in the hope of making it less likely that others will suffer the same fate.

First, it is crucial that measures be adopted to ensure against mistaken access to potentially hazardous logging and private roads. Those responsible for the maintenance of such roads must be required to post clear signs warning against access. Governments should allocate sufficient resources to regularly monitor roadblocks designed to prevent access, and it should be a federal crime to tamper with such signs and barriers.

Such measures might not have stopped James and his family from being misled by a map that depicted the road they chose through the Coast Range as a major thoroughfare, but they would have prevented the ill-fated turn that led them into a maze of logging roads and across treacherous terrain that travelers never should have had access to in the first place.

Locals say mistaken access to the road in question is common, although a gate is at the entrance to the logging roads specifically to prevent unsuspecting travelers from wandering onto them. The appropriate federal agencies failed to perform their duty and lock the gate for the winter. James was not the first victim of an accidental detour in the same area, but with a few changes, he could be the last.

Second, Congress should change the law so that most recent credit card and phone-use records can be immediately released to the next of kin in the event of an emergency. Privacy laws are important to safeguard personal information, but there needs to be provision for exceptional access to information by relatives when it is critical to a family member's survival.

Four days passed before we even knew James and his family were missing. But because my family was unable to confirm credit card and phone-use information until days after their absence was discovered, the start of the search was needlessly delayed. Precious time and a precious life were lost. Privacy concerns kept both the hotel where James and his family last stayed and the restaurant where they last dined from sharing credit card records, thus denying us for days important clues that would have helped narrow the initial search area.

Similarly frustrating was that we did not know about a transmission into James's cellphone on the night his family became stranded until the evening of Dec. 1 -- three full days after the San Francisco Police Department was notified that James and his family were missing. Remarkably, this information was confirmed not by authorities but by conscience-driven cellphone company engineers who saw fit to volunteer their time. This information proved critical to significantly reducing the search area, and it allowed for the discovery and safe rescue of James's wife, Kati, and my granddaughters, Penelope and Sabine, less than two days later.

Had this information been confirmed sooner, rescue teams could have immediately focused the search operation, and James probably would have been rescued with his family and spared his doomed 16-mile quest to save them. What a difference a day would have made!

Third, steps should be taken to ensure that authorities are adequately trained for search-and-rescue operations, have a clear sense of their available resources and fully understand the procedures necessary to conduct an effective, well-coordinated search-and-rescue operation.

We are eternally grateful for the heroic efforts of the search-and-rescue teams and volunteers who risked their lives to save James and his family. But the search was plagued by confusion, communication breakdowns and failures of leadership until the Oregon State Police set up a command post. The media widely reported that leads that could have led to more timely discovery of the car were not pursued. Misinformation was rampant, diverting scarce resources. Air National Guard helicopters with sensitive heat-detecting technology languished on the tarmac for days, even after the cellphone-use information provided a better picture of where James and his family
probably were.

Meanwhile, James hiked through the forest for two long, cold days and nights, and Kati and her children waited through two more days of freezing temperatures until private helicopters discovered and rescued them.

Finally, the Federal Aviation Administration classification code for Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFR) to limit media presence during a life-or-death search-and-rescue operation should be more strictly enforced. A TFR is used to restrict aircraft operations within designated areas to separate "non-participating" aircraft from those engaged in official activities, including search-and-rescue operations.

Unfortunately for James, aviation authorities acquiesced to media requests to relax restrictions and allowed low-altitude media flights in the area while the aerial search was still underway. This untimely and irrational decision caused many rescue helicopters to abandon their operations for one full afternoon due to dangerous conditions created by media airplanes. It took personal pleas to Washington to get restrictions reinstated. The search, not media interest, should be the top priority.

With his last heroic determination to rescue his family, James proved himself to be a man of action. My son deserves a legacy worthy of that man. As a tribute to him, I am determined to follow his lead and do all I can to prevent another senseless tragedy.

The writer lives in Thousand Oaks, Calif.



Gov wants more state help after deadly incidents
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Associated Press

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) -- After two high-profile searches in Oregon this month ended with dead victims, Gov. Ted Kulongoski wants the state to explore ways of helping local agencies better communicate and coordinate during rescue efforts.

The governor is also concerned that county sheriff's departments, which are responsible for conducting search and rescue operations in Oregon, may not be adequately funded, spokeswoman Anna Richter-Taylor said.

"Maybe what we need to do is to look a little bit broader and to see if there's a different relationship, a partnership between the state and the counties, so that we can help the counties in some of these operations," Kulongoski told Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Kulongoski's spokeswoman said the governor wanted to review after-incident reports to figure out where the state can better support efforts on the ground by the local communities.

"Whether it is communications, helping establish a system of centralized communications, or around equipment, the state wants to do everything it can to be supportive," she said from Salem.

Internal reviews of searches are generally conducted by the agencies involved and shared with the state, said Georges Kleinbaum, search and rescue coordinator for Oregon.

Earlier this month, a San Francisco family got lost deep in the Rogue River Canyon in Josephine County after trying to drive a backcountry road through the Siskiyou National Forest during a snowstorm to reach the coast.

After being stranded for a week without rescue, James Kim hiked out for help, but left the road and was found dead of exposure in a creek.

Two days after he left, his wife and two young daughters were found by a local helicopter pilot who was following a hunch and not involved in the formal search. The family hired its own helicopters to join in the search, and there was evidence some information that could have helped focus the search fell through the cracks.

In another search and rescue operation, one of three climbers missing high on Mount Hood in a howling snowstorm was found dead Sunday in a snow cave. The other two, Brian Hall of Dallas and Jerry "Nikko" Cooke of New York, were missing and feared dead after apparently trying to climb down to get help for their companion, Kelly James of Dallas, who had dislocated his shoulder.



What can be learned from this tragic event?

The primary purpose of these TraditionalMountaineering experience reports (and the American Alpine Club's fifty eight Annual Reports of Accidents in North American Mountaineering) is to aid in the prevention of accidents.

We have not had an opportunity to interview any of the individuals involved in this event. Any preliminary suggestions we make below are based on news reports and the experiences of others who have been stranded and lost in the snow.

We will frame our observations in relation to the Four Basic Responsibilities of the backcountry traveler as offered by

1. The Responsible Person.
James Kim and his family had not left a specific Responsible Person with the understanding that the person must make a call to 911 if they did not check in at the expected time. No one knew their starting point from the I 5 corridor or their intended route to Gold Beach Oregon. The Kims were missed by friends and co-workers after several days.

There was trouble narrowing the search. The first Search and Rescue call out was not made for several more days according news stories. Read the Basic Responsibilities.

Initially, the search area was not defined. After several days of detective work, the search was narrowed to Bear Creek Road across the back country mountains to the Oregon Coast.

The public assumes that helicopter searches are made immediately, but the responsible Oregon County Sheriff did not have the experience or the monetary resources to initiate an aerial search over a wide area. Ground searchers drove over Bear Creek Road and "cleared" side roads including the narrow short cut road the Kims had taken. But they had not cleared the road as far along as the Kim's had driven into the forested back country.

Private helicopter search services were purchased in desperation by the Kim's friends and relatives as days passed, and  Kati, and their two daughters Penelope and Sabine, were quickly spotted and airlifted to safety. They were located quickly based on calculations by the dedicated technicians from cell phone pings made several days before. Aerial news video showed the light snow and tire tracks melted to the black pavement as well as James Kim's footprints back up the road about five miles to the point where he chose to enter the cold river canyon.

There were County Government problems with the Search. The Kim Family is pressing for answers to their questions. This will be sorted out in the coming months with the result that Search and Rescue operations in Oregon will be better in the future. It is interesting that Daryl Jane was found stranded in Washington State by private searchers employed by his family, on a road that "had been cleared" by County Search and Rescue folks. (See below for our link to the first Investigative Report.)

The Deschutes County Sheriff seems to have better Search resources: Read more:  Woman missing on the snowy slopes of South Sister near Bend Oregon.

2. The Ten Essential Systems.
The so called "Ten Essentials" for each person are easily carried in an automobile. The Kims appear to have had the basic essentials for a stranding. They might have had a full tank of fuel, more warm clothing and blankets, flares, more food and water and so on. Read more about the  Ten Essential Systems.

3. The Ability to Navigate.
James Kim knew generally where he was when he became stranded with his wife and two small daughters on a remote Forest Service Road near the Rogue River.

Initially, James Kim and his family were reported to have been stranded only one mile down a forest road from a Rogue River summer community with a fully stocked fishing lodge that was closed for the season. This road and the community of summer lodges are clearly shown on the USGS Quad map of the area. Later, the reported coordinates were corrected and the Kims had parked a few miles further down the graveled road, but still within easy walking distance for the entire family. A $100 GPS unit could have led the whole family to safety as the weather cleared and the light snow had melted, had he had a map, compass and GPS and the skills to use them. The entire set of detailed Oregon Quad maps costs $100 and can be accessed with a lap top computer plugged into a car. A single lap top CD disk map of all of the western states covers thousands of miles of roads in lesser detail. It is ironic that James Kim was a technology reporter who would have loved having the ability to become found within a few meters and follow an easy course to safety. Read More: Map, Compass and GPS Together in a Nut Shell.

James and his wife reportedly poured over the road map that they had. (One common simple road map of Oregon that we looked at in the grocery store today showed the road they were on and the nearby road to the Black Bar Lodge and summer community.) They miscalculated their location by many miles. James decided to try to hike out for help and then decided to try to walk down a stream bed to the Rogue River. (Had he been able to continue another mile down stream to the Rogue River he would have found the small community of Black Bear and stocked cabins closed up for the winter.)

He became wet in the course of his quest and dressed in cotton clothing and tennis shoes, he lost about 70% of his clothing insulation. When he became wet he quickly lost body heat and actually perished in the stream bed from exposure and hypothermia. He may have been dressed well enough for a walk along the sunny forest road (except that he reportedly did not have a hat). He could not have survived dressed as he was, in the cold refrigerated canyon bottom after wading in ice cold water.

Exhaustion and hypothermia cause an insidious loss of mental and physical ability. Hypothermia can be avoided by using simple information, training, proper gear, and knowledge gained through the experiences of others. Read now about Hypothermia.

Thoughtful contributors to blogs on the Kim tragedy have commented on how his quixotic quest may be clouding the important lessons that can be learned from his death.

If your way to self rescue is not clear and feasible, it is always best to stay in one place and mark the location. If you begin to get cold, keep exercising to maintain body heat generated from use of large muscles and seek shelter from any wind. A vehicle is an ideal "cave" to occupy until help arrives. Missing man survives two weeks trapped in snow-covered car

It is important to conserve fuel when you are stranded in your automobile. The Oregon coastal snow was not really heavy by some Oregon standards and had they conserved gasoline and kept their tires on their SUV they might have driven back up the road (which appeared to have melted to the rock road surface by the time they were found).

4. The Ability to Communicate.
The Kim's cell phone pinged towers as they passed canyons on their way down the forest road. Some cell phones will sound a tone as they go in and out of touch with cell towers. As the way became more difficult that terrible scary night it might have helped to have made note of these places and tried to backtrack to phone for help. When my friends and I are far from main roads in the high desert of Central Oregon, we keep an eye on our cell phone connectivity. (If you are not in a vehicle, It is important to keep your emergency cell phone off to conserve the battery when it is out of touch and to protect the battery from cold.)

Note: We will review more factual information in the coming days and modify this report as we can. --Webmeister Speik



Oregon State Sheriff's Final Report on the Kim Family Search Review

The lengthy Final Report on the "Kim Family Search Review" is now available on line. It is very informative.   



A suggested minimum standard news advisory for all backcountry travelers

"We would like to take this opportunity to ask our visitors to the backcountry of Oregon to plan for the unexpected.  Each person should dress for the forecast weather and take minimum extra clothing protection from a drop in temperature and possible rain or snow storm or an unexpected cold wet night out, insulation from the wet ground or snow, high carbohydrate snacks, two quarts of water or Gatorade, a map and compass and optional inexpensive GPS and the skills to use them, and a charged cell phone and inexpensive walkie-talkie radios. Carry the traditional personal "Ten Essentials Systems" in a day pack sized for the season and the forecast weather.

Visitors are reminded to tell a Responsible Person where they are going, where they plan to park, when they will be back and to make sure that person understands that they are relied upon to call 911 at a certain time if the backcountry traveler has not returned. If you become lost or stranded, mark your location and stay still or move around your marked location to stay warm. Do not try to find your way until you are exhausted, or worse yet - wet. Wait for rescuers.




"To provide information and instruction about world-wide basic to advanced alpine mountain climbing safety skills and gear, on and off trail hiking, scrambling and light and fast Leave No Trace backpacking techniques based on the foundation of an appreciation for the Stewardship of the Land, all illustrated through photographs and accounts of actual shared mountaineering adventures."

TraditionalMountaineering is founded on the premise that "He who knows naught, knows not that he knows naught", that exploring the hills and summitting peaks have dangers that are hidden to the un-informed and that these inherent risks can be in part, identified and mitigated by mentoring: information, training, wonderful gear, and knowledge gained through the experiences of others.

The value of TraditionalMountaineering to our Friends is the selectivity of the information we provide, and its relevance to introducing folks to informed hiking on the trail, exploring off the trail, mountain travel and Leave-no-Trace light-weight bivy and backpacking, technical travel over steep snow, rock and ice, technical glacier travel and a little technical rock climbing on the way to the summit. Whatever your capabilities and interests, there is a place for everyone in traditional alpine mountaineering.




Mountain climbing has inherent dangers that can, only in part, be mitigated

Read more . . .
FREE Clinic on Real Survival Strategies and Staying Found with Map, Compass and GPS together
Official Oregon State Report on the Kim Family Rescue
Use your cell phone for backcountry adventures and mountaineering
What do you carry in your winter day and summit pack?
Why are "snowcaves" dangerous?
Why are "Space Blankets" dangerous?
Why are "Emergency Kits" dangerous?
How can you avoid Hypothermia?
Oregon State Search and Rescue Statues  six PDF pages
Three climbers, MLU and dog lost on Mt, Hood
Missing climbers on Mount Hood, one dies of exposure, two believed killed in fall
Missing man survives two weeks trapped in snow-covered car
Missing snowmobile riders found, Roger Rouse dies from hypothermia
Olympic Champion Rulon Gardner lost on snowmobile!
Lost Olympic hockey player looses feet to cold injury

Expert skier lost five days near resort in North Cascades without map, compass, gps or cell phone
Mount Hood - The Episcopal School Tragedy
Mount Hood - experienced climbers rescued from snow cave
How can you learn the skills of snow camping?   Prospectus

Lost and Found
What happened to the three climbers on Mt. Hood?
Mount Hood - Solo climber falls from Cooper Spur
Mount Hood - climbing accident claims three lives -Final Report and our Analysis 
Notable mountain climbing accidents Analyzed 
Missing California family found, dad dies from exposure and hypothermia
Missing man survives two weeks trapped in snow-covered car
Missing snowmobile riders found, Roger Rouse dies from hypothermia
Longacre Expeditions teen group rescued from the snowdrifts above Todd Lake
Lost climber hikes 6.5 miles from South Sister Trail to Elk Lake
Hiking couple lost three nights in San Jacinto Wilderness find abandoned gear
Expert skier lost five days in North Cascades without Essentials, map and compass
Climber disappears on the steep snow slopes of Mount McLaughlin
Hiker lost five days in freezing weather on Mount Hood
Professor and son elude search and rescue volunteers
Found person becomes lost and eludes rescuers for five days
Teens, lost on South Sister, use cell phone with Search and Rescue
Lost man walks 27 miles to the highway from Elk Lake Oregon
Snowboarder Found After Week in Wilderness
Searchers rescue hiker at Smith Rock, find lost climbers on North Sister
Girl Found In Lane County After Lost On Hiking Trip
Search and rescue finds young girls lost from family group
Portland athlete lost on Mt. Hood
Rescues after the recent snows
Novice couple lost in the woods
Broken Top remains confirmed as missing climber
Ollalie Trail - OSU Trip - Lost, No Map, Inadequate Clothing

 Your Essential Light Day Pack
What are the new Ten Essential Systems?
What does experience tell us about Light and Fast climbing?
What is the best traditional alpine mountaineering summit pack?
What is Light and Fast alpine climbing?
What do you carry in your day pack?      Photos?    
What do you carry in your winter day pack?       Photos?    
What should I know about "space blankets"?
Where can I get a personal and a group first aid kit?      Photos?

 Carboration and Hydration
Is running the Western States 100 part of "traditional mountaineering"?
What's wrong with GORP?    Answers to the quiz!
Why do I need to count carbohydrate calories?
What should I know about having a big freeze-dried dinner?
What about carbo-ration and fluid replacement during traditional alpine climbing?   4 pages in pdf  
What should I eat before a day of alpine climbing?

  About Alpine Mountaineering:
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  The Mountaineers' Rope
  Basic Responsibilities       Cuatro Responsabiliades Basicas de Quienes Salen al Campo
  The Ten Essentials         Los Diez Sistemas Esenciales

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BLM guidelines for Geocaching on public lands
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