A family that got stuck on a remote road for days, leading to the death of the father who hiked out for help, made the fateful decision to turn onto a logging road in the belief it would lead out of the snow, the victim's wife has told authorities.
The Kim family, on the way home to San Francisco from a Thanksgiving trip, took the wrong turn Nov. 25 while on a backcountry route through the Siskiyou National Forest. James Kim, 35, died of exposure after setting out Dec. 2 to find help. His wife, Kati Kim, and their two young girls were found Dec. 4 by a helicopter pilot.
When James Kim did not return as planned, Kati Kim strapped the girls to her and tried to hike out, but she felt weak and returned to the car, said Klamath County Sheriff Tim Evinger, who led a review of the search by the Oregon State Sheriff's Association.
The review was released Thursday and contains Kati Kim's revelations on the mystery of how the family ended up on the little-used logging road.
"There was a whole lot of small choices, whether good bad or indifferent, that put them in the situation they were," Evinger said.
Afraid to turn around
The Kims were taking a route from Interstate 5 to the Oregon coast known as Bear Camp Road when they came to a fork in the road, she said, according to Evinger. They took the left fork, staying on Bear Camp Road, but backed up to the fork after seeing snow ahead.
Fearing they could run off the road by trying to turn around, they took the fork to the right, thinking it would lead to the coast and the lodge where they had reservations, Evinger said.
"The road to the right is paved as well, and actually wider than the correct road," Evinger said. "So they chose to get to a lower elevation to get out of the snow. So they went to the right."
They followed that logging road 21 miles but stopped at 2 a.m. to use their gasoline for warmth while waiting to be found, Evinger said. The car became stuck when more snow fell the next night.
Kati Kim did not recall seeing three signs warning that Bear Camp Road could be blocked by snow but did see a parked snowplow that led her to believe the road was maintained, Evinger said. The first sign she recalled warning of snowdrifts was at the fork.
While stranded, the Kims burned tires to try to signal rescuers. At one point they heard a helicopter but could not get their signal fire going, Evinger said.
Kati Kim said it "was the darkest, most depressing moment when they couldn't get the fire lit after hearing the helicopter, knowing they were going to spend another night," Evinger said.
The review also noted "frequent confusion" over who was in charge of the search. There is no firm evidence, though, that searchers could have reached the family in time to save James Kim's life, Evinger said.
"There were just too many variables to know one event that would have changed the outcome," Evinger said.
The review found confusion about who was leading operations _ the state police, the Josephine County Sheriff's Department or someone on the ground. The command center once closed before search teams left the field, and they were not debriefed. Only once did search commanders prepare plans for the next day.
The Josephine County Sheriff's Patrol Search and Rescue, a nonprofit group of volunteers, asked for the review after media reports suggested officials did not effectively use tips about what road the Kims might have taken.