A Family's Doomed Journey ...

... and the lessons learned

On Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2006, James Kim, a 35-year-old San Francisco technical writer, was found dead in the Rogue Wilderness of southwestern Oregon. He was wearing tennis shoes and light clothing. A coroner ruled that he died of hypothermia; in plainer English, James Kim froze to death.

Ten days earlier, in the early morning hours of Sunday, Nov. 26, Mr. Kim had gotten lost in the Rogue while driving toward a luxury resort near Gold Beach, a coastal town just north of the California border. In the car with him were his 30-year-old wife, Kati, and their seven-month-old and four-year-old daughters.

On the morning of Saturday, Dec. 2, after the family had been stranded on a remote logging road for six days, James Kim set off in search of help. The others stayed behind, and on Monday, Dec. 4 they were rescued and brought to safety. The search continued for James Kim, and on Dec. 6 his body was found floating in a shallow area of the Big Windy Creek.

Authorities questioned Mrs. Kim after they rescued her and her children. Elements of her account were passed to the media, whose heavy coverage of the case had focused on their Kims’ ordeal rather than their misjudgments. In early December, the Portland Oregonian, the state’s largest newspaper, alleged that the search and rescue (“SAR”) effort had been botched.

The newspaper’s allegations led the Oregon governor and the Oregon State Sheriff’s Association to investigate the SAR operation, the latter organization becoming involved at the request of the Josephine County sheriff’s office, the principal target of the Oregonian’s criticism. The governor’s office released a timeline of official actions on Jan. 5, 2007, and the Sheriff’s Association released its report two weeks later.

The unusual attention to this tragedy triggered conversations about personal responsibility, public safety, government policies and Search and Rescue (“SAR”) management and procedures. This web site, draws on a variety of publicly available sources, including official reports, media accounts and website postings. I examined the participants and their actions, and the other factors that figured in the events. I reconciled conflicting accounts when possible, and highlighted what gaps remain. I have done so without fear or favor, hoping to help prevent similar tragedies in Oregon and elsewhere.

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