Family's ordeal not over after rescue in the snow

Times Staff Writers

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 CNet.com, 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.

But the Kims instead dropped south on I-5 and apparently tried to go west along a rugged National Back Country Byway that follows the Rogue River before splitting off to Gold Beach. On a map, that single roadway could look like a tempting shortcut to the coast, although signs on the road warn of possible snow closures.

However, crossing the area is "virtually impossible" without getting lost, even with global positioning technology, said Eric Fuqua, engineer for Edge Wireless, a local cellphone company. And attempting it on a dark, freezing evening could have been an invitation to disaster.

With growing Internet attention on the case, Fuqua and a colleague got involved late last week by tracking two flickers of attempted text messages to the Kims' phone Nov. 26.

"They hit a flash of coverage," Fuqua said. "It delivered the message and told us what sector. That's where it took intuition and guessing."

Fuqua drew a map of a 20-mile radius and overlayed the limited areas of coverage.

An outdoorsman familiar with the region, he then put personal experience to use. "I knew there was a flash of coverage on a road I had been on before, in my experience of just playing in the hills, and that was Bear Camp Road," he said. "That goes to the coast, and I knew they were trying to get to the coast." Fuqua contacted state detectives with the location.

Meanwhile, when no official search effort had been launched by Thursday, CNet turned to its list of media contacts to spread the word to television stations.

That evening, Engadget.com also ran a story, alerting the tech community that the James Kim so many site users knew through his reviews of digital audio technology and podcasts on digital music on CNet was missing with his family. It posted family photos and called on readers to spread the word. Soon, a plethora of tech sites for gamers and gadget lovers were posting the news too.

A friend saw the Engadget piece and sent it to Scott Nelson Windels, who works for another Bay Area technology company.

Nelson Windels started contacting members of Kati Kim's family, who were still unaware of the situation. Several high-profile Bay Area disappearances in the last year had impressed upon Nelson Windels the power of involvement by a wide network of supporters. By Friday, he realized that a website could help coordinate search efforts and relay messages to the Kims' relatives without pestering them unduly.

"It got me on the path really quickly that there was a lot more we could do than just sit around and wait for news," he said.

He transformed his Oakland kitchen into a mini-command post, where as many as 10 volunteers have gathered with their laptops to help service the site, some skipping work, some arriving to pull the night shift.

"It's kept our spirits up," said Nelson Windels, 31, a close friend of Kati Kim's from her University of Oregon days.

'Overwhelmed, hopeful'

Monday's news of the rescue of Kati Kim and the girls caused sobs throughout his house. CNet had been providing detailed updates of search efforts and was preparing to go live with streaming video of a news conference with Oregon authorities. But the friends gathered in Nelson Windels' living room already had reason to be hopeful: An anonymous poster from Grants Pass had heard news of the rescue on his police scanner and posted it on the site 10 minutes earlier.

"We were waiting with bated breath," he said. "There were a lot of tears. It's been a pretty emotional roller coaster for us."

Virtually every employee in CNet's six-story building was also glued to the news. "We're just really overwhelmed and hopeful right now," said CNet Executive Editor Lindsey Turrentine.

About 2,000 people have since weighed in on the website's guest book with tips and prayers. A family from Tennessee. A grandmother from Georgia. A woman in Seattle married to another James Kim, and a team of post-trauma specialists working in the Rocky Mountains.

Some southwest Oregon residents have railed about the signage on the road that tripped up the Kims, noting that motorists should be warned more forcefully that it is sparsely maintained and treacherous.

It is also unclear at this point whether James Kim was misled by a paper highway map that depicted the road over the Coast Range, or an online version. But that did not stop some contributors to the website from also suggesting that online map services fail to show that the roads shown can be highly dangerous.

"I don't understand why MapQuest and Google put those so called 'short cuts' on the maps," a woman identified as Laurie, who said she lived in the area, wrote on the site. "I am sure that a human does not drive on these roads before they put them on the Web. I hope that can change. Please find James alive. We all care."

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sam.howe.verhovek@latimes.com

lee.romney@latimes.com

Verhovek reported from Galice, Romney from San Francisco. Times staff writer Lynn Marshall in Seattle also contributed to this report.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Oregon search

A family driving back to San Francisco through southwest Oregon became snowbound on a small road west of Interstate 5 while en route to Gold Beach. The mother and two children were found, but a search continues for the father.

Nov. 2

1. Family last seen in Roseburg.

2. They miss State 42 turnoff to Gold Beach.

3. They decide to take Merlin-Galice Road, part of which is closed in winter, to the coast. Car gets stranded in the snow.

Dec. 2-4

4. James Kim leaves car to get help. His family is rescued Dec. 4 at Bear Camp Summit.

Continuing

5. Search for Kim continues along drainage of Big Windy Creek.

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Sources: U.S. Geological Survey, Josephine County sheriff, ESRI, TeleAtlas, USGS, Times reporting. Graphics reporting by Julie Sheer

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