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Kati Kim describes harrowing week lost in woods

In an interview with investigators, the wife of CNET editor provides new insight into how he struggled to keep his family alive.

Cold, hunger and fear for the lives of his wife and children had taken a toll on James Kim by the time he left his family to find help.

Stranded in a wilderness for a week with little to eat, James Kim prepared on the morning of December 2 to leave his wife, Kati Kim, and two daughters in order to find help at what he hoped would be a town four miles away, according to report issued Thursday by the Oregon State Sheriffs' Association (OSSA). The group was asked to conduct a review of how the search for the Kims was handled and released its findings on Thursday.

James 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 nine days 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.

Kati Kim was interviewed on Monday by investigators and the OSSA report includes her account of how the family became lost, survived on little food or fuel for fires, and tried to contact rescuers. On December 1, the day before he set out on his own, James Kim frantically attempted to restart a fire after hearing a helicopter nearby but failed because of the wet conditions.

The report also illustrates that the Kims realized very early that there was a chance that they wouldn't be rescued for an extended period and recognized the hazards they faced. They made a pact: "No getting wet. No getting hurt. No getting sick."

A combination of factors led to the family getting lost on the Oregon mountain roads, Kati Kim told investigators. First, the Kims missed several warnings that Bear Camp Road, a route they thought was a shortcut to their destination on the Oregon coast, was hazardous that time of year. A warning saying "Not all Roads Advisable, Check Weather Conditions" was posted in a "tiny box" on the couple's map but they didn't see it until days after they were stranded.

A gas station attendant in Merlin, Ore., gave James Kim "strange directions" and never indicated that the route could be dangerous, Kati Kim said in the report. As they made their way up Bear Camp Road, a snowplow parked near the road made the Kims believe that the road was maintained. Road signs told them that they were headed toward the coast.

Not until they saw a warning sign that read the road may be blocked by snowdrifts were they tipped off they were in trouble, the OSSA report said.

Kati Kim, daughters found

Just after the Kims drove past the sign, it began to snow. At that point, James Kim wanted to turn back, but "Kati thought it was too dangerous" to attempt turning the car around on the narrow road, according to the report.

"Kati was certain that they were going to be headed down the coastal side of the range any minute," the report said.

When the Kims ran into deeper snow, they tried to call 911, but their cell phones were unable to get a signal. The Kims parked the car at a "T" intersection and thought they'd soon be discovered.

The couple decided to remain where they were and use their remaining gas to keep the engine and heater going, Kati recalled in her interview. They were disappointed several times after hearing sounds they thought were snowmobile engines turn out to be the roaring water of the nearby Rogue River.

James Kim found a gate nearby and wrote a letter using his eldest daughter's crayon: "Low on Gas, Low on Food 2 Babies." He then stuck the note in a bag and hung it to the gate, investigators wrote.

The Kims' first few days were spent battling harsh weather. Kati Kim noted in her interview that the snow was so heavy that it "bent the tree branches nearly to the ground."

The couple quickly realized that help may not be coming for an extended period. They hunkered down, prepared for the worst and began rationing the food so that it would last two weeks "even if it meant one mouthful a day," Kati Kim told investigators.

The report noted that there was still rice cereal in the car when Kati Kim and her two daughters were rescued.

In the daytime, the Kims began creating signals and signs. They would stomp out large S.O.S. symbols in the snow. They honked the horn and yelled for help often.

On November 30, the Kims' Saab station wagon ran out of gas, the report said. James began attempting to keep a fire going. They punctured a tire and burned it hoping that someone would see the smoke.

"But the trees were so tall that the smoke seemed to dissipate before it got above the timber," Kati Kim told investigators.

On December 1, the Kims built a bigger fire using multiple tires and this time the plume rose high above the trees, according to the report.

In her recollections of that day, Kati Kim told investigators: "If they won't come save us, maybe they will come save their forest."

The feeling of triumph at building a large fire quickly evaporated. Moments after the fire went out the Kims heard a helicopter, Kati Kim said in her interview. James Kim "frantically tried to relight the fire," but was unable to because of the damp conditions. The Kims were dejected, according to the report.

"Kati describes that afternoon, near dark about 4:30, as one of the toughest moments of their ordeal," officials wrote in the report. "They realized they had another night in the car."

On December 2, James Kim estimated that they were four miles from the town of Galice. In fact, the Kims were about 15 miles from the nearest town. James Kim set out at 7:46 a.m., Kati recalled in her interview, with lighters, scissors and extra colorful clothes to leave along his path to help find his way back. He promised to return if he found nothing by 1 p.m.

James Kim never returned. On December 4, Kati Kim and her two daughters were seen by a helicopter. Two other helicopters dropped food and she fed her daughters chocolate. The thirsty children couldn't drink because the Gatorade bottles dropped broke open on impact.

About 10 minutes later a helicopter landed and picked up Kati Kim and the girls. It was only then that she learned that her husband had not yet been found, the report said.

Also during her interview Kati Kim acknowledged the "many who put her family first and put themselves in harm's way to help."