Getting Lost In The Wilderness; RIP James Kim

December 7, 2006 11:25 PM

James Kim and family

UPDATE 9th Dec 2006 12:19pmVandal cut lock on gate blocking road where Kims stranded. However they drove past numerous signs warning that the road may be blocked by falling snow.

UPDATE 8th Dec 2006 9:32amPost-mortem analysis of events and James Kim’s cause of death

James Kim, an editor for CNet was found dead in the wilderness of Oregon, two days after his wife and two children had been found; 11 days after their initial disappearance from a Thanksgiving road trip. This story would have been unremarkable if not for the fact that James was known to those who are familiar with CNet and TechTV (now G4TV) where he had served as a presenter. That is to say that he was well known to a sizable portion of the tech community, and when news first broke of the family’s disappearance, it spread like wildfire across tech blogs and news sites.

An article from the San Francisco Chronicle outlines the combination of bad luck and what I think was a series of bad decisions which got the Kim family stuck on a narrow and slippery country road, in the dark and in freezing temperatures.

Though they did a few things right:

  • running the car’s heaters until they ran out of fuel,
  • sticking shiny tape on an umbrella as a beacon,
  • burning the car’s tyres for warmth and to attract attention, and
  • wife Kati breast feeding the children when their food ran out.
James Kim and his daughters, Penelope and Sabine

But, James made the fatal mistake of leaving their car to go search for help. He was wearing a few layers of street clothes and sneakers, and no hat to conserve body heat. He was not going to last long in the cold rugged terrain. And for some reason, he did not retrace his way back on the side road, and back onto the main road. However we cannot presume what was going through his mind after waiting for 9 days without any signs of rescue. Perhaps he was desperate by then and decided to do what he thought was best for his family.

Still, as this commenter on Digg summarised it:

What would i have done differenly? Well for starters I would never had decided to take a shortcut through the mountains in an area im not familiar through terrible weather in the middle of the night with a woman and 2 children in my automobile that wasnt a SUV or 4×4 and was hardly equipped for that kind of traveling. Secondly, why in the hell are you going to pull over and “ride” out the weather overnight instead of simply turning around and carefully driving back the 55 miles you had already travelled? Everything they did was stupid, especially given the fact that they had small children. I can understand taking these kind of risks If I were alone or with a group of guys (which i have done) but never would i try silly shit like this with my wife and kids.

And he does make sense, in light of what Kati Kim had said about having to get out of the car to remove rocks from the road at one stage. If I had come across rocks on a dark and unfamiliar road, I would have turned around immediately and not try to push on. Had I missed a turn whilst traveling on a highway late at night in the dark, I would have drove on and stopped at the next rest stop, petrol station or motel. And then continue on after a night’s rest.

Hindsight is 20-20. It was very fortunate that Jame’s wife Kati and children Penelope and Sabine were found. It is tragic that James did not survive the ordeal. Hopefully the lessons learnt from this will prevent another unnecessary death.

And I strongly advise those who’d contemplate going country or off-road driving do proper research, especially in Australia. I found this site to be quite excellent:
The “Real” Australian Outback – An Outback Australia Travel Guide

Even though it’s specific to Australia, I think that had James gleamed some of that knowledge, he would probably still be alive today. RIP, James Kim.

[tags]James Kim, driving, travel, survival[/tags]

10 thoughts on “Getting Lost In The Wilderness; RIP James Kim

  1. Andrew Lim

    This is just tragic. =(

    I never heard of James Kim until he got missing, which is surprising since he’s actually a pretty reknowned techie, and I’m in the IT industry. :/

    Man, how I wish he’d stayed in the car instead of wandering off alone. The whole family could have survived together, and we’d all have a happy ending.

    But what ifs will remain what ifs…

    RIP James Kim.

  2. explicist

    Quote: “What would i have done differenly? Well for starters I would… blah blah blah”

    Oh well, what’s the point of saying all these when it already happened? Can’t bring the dead to life…

    When one is desperate for survival, he/she can’t think rationally. He probably did it for his kids though it might seem foolish to most.

    My condolences to Kim’s family and may his soul RIP.

  3. Rob

    so very sad. such young kids. seeing their father walk off and not come back.
    in hindsight what he did was everything you shouldn’t do. In the heat of the moment, when panic sets in we all make bad decisions. unfortunately this time it was fatal.
    I guess most people who don’t grow up near isolated areas are oblivious to how dangerous it can be to travel unprepared. In Oz we’re pretty aware since without fail several tourists die in the outback each year in the same manner as James Kim.

  4. V

    I think this was one of the saddest stories i ever heard/read. He promised them he would come back, it made me tear. I think detractors and criticism is highly unwarranted. No one but james kim was in that car with starving children and a desperate wife. At that level of desperation, he was only trying to be a father and a husband. At the end of the day, i think he did absolutely nothing wrong. It’s just terribly sad but i dont see what the criticism is about.

    Fathers give in to their little girls when their girls cry that they want “That doll! That one!” That’s just a toy. Which father wouldnt give in to the desperation when his 7month old is starving and freezing? WHO?

  5. mooiness Post author

    Andrew: like I said, after 9 days of not seeing any improvements in their situation he probably thought he was doing the right thing.

    explicist: the point in analysing and criticising Jame’s ordeal is to learn from it.

    ALPTRAUMLAGE: yes it is.

    Rob: yeah we are never short of those stories around here, especially now around summer.

    V: I think most ppl are criticising how they got into that situation (ie. stuck) in the first place – driving down an unfamiliar road late at night, not turning back etc. What they did after was mostly correct, until on the 9th day when logic and patience gave way to desperation.

    Lara: yeah and unfortunately his death is not the first in that area. I know the Oregon state govt. mentioned that they warn travellers about that road during winter but I don’t understand why they don’t just close off the road for the season. Could have saved lives AND the costs of the rescue operations.

  6. girlstar7

    That is so sad. I really feel for his wife and kids. She has lost a husband and now they will grow up without a father.
    I think, in that situation, you don’t think rationally. Panic sets in and all logic goes out the window.

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